This Native American dancer was the first grand ballerina of the United States. Through her partnership with famed choreographer George Balanchine, she helped shape ballet in America and served as an inspiration for artists from all backgrounds.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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just hear fine tracing sea has been looking for more native american public if she wanted to work on something in that Irina and she came across them. But then she asked me if I would like to be the research on it evolves now lay. My answer was, of course, may we and there's a person that I have long admired. So the women that were focusing on today is often referred to as a trailblazer, because she was a native American who became the prima ballerina for the New York City ballet. But she was a trailblazer period, even if you discount her native american heritage, not that you should, but because she was the first prima ballerina ever at the New York City, ballet and she's often considered
America's first, prima ballerina. She really set the bar for every one who came after her and she said it extremely high. She was really a role model for artists, from all backgrounds to strive for excellence and no matter. You know what you're up bringing our cultural heritage. She was just an amazing beacon of artistry and brilliance and creativity, and she is considered, as I said, to be the first grand ballerina of the United States. So we are talking today about Maria Tal Chief, so her birth name was Ellison, Marie Tall Chief and that was originally to words. She was born to Alexander Joseph Tall Chief and Ruth Tall Chief, whose maiden name was porter on January twenty, fourth, nineteen, twenty five and Fairfax Oklahoma. She was named after her to grandmothers, Eliza Totty, on her father
I am a reporter on her mother's side and Marie had been actually named after Marie Antoinette an for geographical reference Fairfax, especially for people outside the. U S is about sixty miles North West Tulsa, so it's really sort of smack dab in the middle of it Memo United States. Her father was a member of the ice age nation and he was full blooded osage. her mother, Ruth with Scotch Irish. This ban was well off. Being few Osage lands being really oil rich, her father wisely invested and real estate, and when recalling her youth in Osage Maria said that it felt like her father owned the town, he bent down some pretty prominent aspects available
Movie theater he and a lot of buildings around the town. She really gonna. As we said he invested in real estate and was pretty smart about buying land, but he unfortunately also at a drinking problem and while, according to tall chief, her father was never physically violent with her mother. The pair would argue when he drank. Sometimes they would argue about money, because even though he did very well, he sort of it went out the door as fast as it came in and he would sometimes go and drinking bitches when these big checks from the oil royalties came and according to Maria, when she was very young and he would find these reaches, they were really incur way, scary, he was a large man and it was just frightening to be around somebody that big and angry Ruth wanted Betty Marie, which is what the family called Maria and her sister Marjorie to be educated in the arts. Visiting teachers would give them lessons and music and
I'm saying and when they were at their vacation home in Colorado Springs. They took lessons there as well and Maria's autobiography. She recalls that her first that way ass when she was barely more than a toddler, was in a hotel in Colorado sprang. She was about three years old, sometimes you'll see it told as for but in her autobiography. She says three and she says what I remember Most- is the ballet teacher told me to stand street in turn, each of my feet out to the side. The first position. I couldn't believe it, but I did what I was told us. He studied music as well as they answered she had perfect pitch routes. The dream for both of the daughters was that they will be musical dancing, star but a career as a pianist for Betty Marie, was also something that she considered. Maria first danced on points at the very tender age of five and anyone listening to this, who has studied by way is probably cringing because they know this is far too early for a child to appoint you
The bones of the feet are still growing and they're, not really strong enough for this in the musculature of the foot is not ready to support the body on tiptoe. In this way, it's really bad decision and later teachers would be deeply dismayed by this early foray into points use as a file. Betty Marie would accompany her grandmother tall chief to powers and she was really in trouble. By the dancing in the songs that told tribes, history and her autobiography what was written in the ninety ninety with Larry Kaplan. She said the rhythm of those songs has stayed with me.
Betty Mary was also incredibly smart, even from a very early age, and when she was enrolled in school at age five, it was not long before the teachers decided they had to move her to grades ahead, just to keep her challenged, which to me sounds crazy, like to move a five year old into a class with seven year. Olds is a really big gap at that age, but there are wise when she was just eight years old. The family moved to LAS Angeles. California, Ruth still wanted the girls to have every opportunity to be stars, and there was some confusion about what great Betty Marie should be in too great a head for reasons. We just talked about in really sit well with the new school. She was place instead in what was called up thirty class, which was similar to a modern day gifted programme, and she still talked in her autobiography about how she was still pretty board. They couldn't keeper occupied enough
but she also studied, in LOS Angeles, under wellknown Hollywood dancer. Teacher in Korea refer earnest Belcher, and this is really a lucky. Happenstance Belcher had actually been recommended to Ruth Tall Chief by a druggist when she just kind of inquired off handedly about danced teachers in Lhasa let's belts are taught Betty Marie and her sister variety of different damsels over the years, whereas valet tap acrobatics, spanish stance and they even had to learn to play castanets by all accounts. Maria was extremely proficient in custody Belcher, as I suggested earlier, was horrified that their dance teacher in Oklahoma had put the girls on point at such a young age, and he basically started out their ballet training over entirely from scratch. He made it very clear that they had been really lucky. They had not been injured by the carelessness
their previous teacher, I, the girls, were studying underwater. Their mother was really eager to get them performing Ruth book. The girls that Eastern STAR Lodges and County Fair is doing native american vans and we have the kind of use air quotes there, because this was a really Africa production rather than an authentic dance. Both of the girls are really self conscious. Throughout the whole and when they finally outgrew their costumes. They were really happy about it because they got to give the whole thing up yeah when she talks about it in her out of a hundred feet, you can tell it just the whole thing was horrible and uncomfortable and awkward em up before we get to the next stage of her her education, you take a quick word from a sponsor. Let's do this episode of stuff you miss than history glasses, brought you by love book. If you ve ever wanted to share a love story with somebody, but you weren't really sure how to start that is where love book comes in. These are totally customize
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He just belly teacher. She would later described engines as kind, but also intense. The russian woman was a graduate of the Imperial Theatre School in Saint Petersburg should speak. A lot of English and her husband would translate awkwardly with terror it means that were a wine along the lines that you are like spaghetti. You must Paul Paul just clears about by that. Apparently it really was pretty clear.
the students what they were getting at and it was under Madame the Djinn scare, that tells you realized how hard she was really gonna have to work. If she wanted to pursue a career in dance, she was being taught and to really just think about dance, constantly and lived the life of a dancer at all times, not just during class. But you know when walking down the street to carry herself, you know improper alignment when she is waiting for a bus like basically she was being talked about the importance and the rigour of and precision of the arts. But none of this deterred her in the least. It actually only serve to make her more and more certain that dance was for true path in life when she was fit eighteen and nineteen forty she made her debut. She danced the Hollywood bowl and Chopin Concerto along with none other than said Cerise. There was a perfect I tell tee factually fell during the performance of our teacher, seemed unconcerned and reassure her that these kinds of things happen
Everyone yeah Maria, was horrified. Of course anybody that's ever performed when you have a huge catholic that it's really unsettling and you feel very self conscious and upset, but her didn't seem really bothered by it at all and wash studying under Madame agents. Betty Marie was really exposed to a great number of fantastic dancers who would visit the studio to take classes when they were on tour and brought them through town, and she actually really caught the eye of several as Promising performer yugoslavian ballerina me us Levinsky, had seen such potential in the young dancer that she arranged for thirty Denham, who was the director of the valley ruse to audition her when he was in town while he never actually spoke to tell tee. If he told her mother that she was a good answer and then
like to see her again when she was done with high school Betty Marie, which is, which is still going by the time, had been planning to attend college, but her father actually can put the brakes on that plan. He thought she be using all of that training that they had been paying for all these years to actually seek out a job in dance. And so she addition for and was cast in the film presenting, Lily Mars heavily was an empty and picture as an extra and Judy Garland started that picture and so getting to see. Judy Garland work really delighted tall chief and it made her father very happy and proud that she was attached to this pick where the big name in it, but once the film wrapped she had to find something else to do. So. She remembered her edition, in which certain Dunham had said that she was talented. So she called him up to express her interest in working with ballet loose
that will probably do not play out initially, as she had hoped, the prairies director could not quite Contra the memory of Turkey from her audition he's a good guy. Don't actually remember you, However, her timing was really impeccable because he was having some staff problems eyes. Troop was scheduled to begin a tour of Canada, but many of the members of his company were kind of caught in the politics following it caught in the politics of the war, since rambler were too and they found themselves unable to get passports. A lot of them were from Russia and they were here in the. U S, and there were some paperwork issues around the whole thing. He was quite desperate, so he let tall chief audition for him.
again. She went up to New York. In addition, and this time she was asked to join the tour. As a member of the Court of L a. She was really more than happy to endorse all the rigours of life on the road which she was doing basically alone and as a seventeen year old, she later encourage or students to learn from our experiences and seek out opportunities. She extol the virtues of this being the right place at the right at the right time and willing to work hard, as you could, win, fourchan found you, and this is also when she switched over from being Betty Marie to taking the name Maria tall teeth, and she had actually been urged by a number of people. You'll see different names attached to sort of the person, that's credited with it to take a russian stage name. This is quite popular among american dancers. At the time
it was believed to give them a certain level of cloud, but she refused. She really wanted to maintain her. Oh sage, heritage and her last name as that tracing mentioned earlier, had been the words tall and chief separately, but people count found it confusing says she had actually did the space between them back in school in California. These kids a kind of teased her and made fun of her enacted about the detail of this, so she had actually ditch the space between them back in school in California. Yes, she had talked about her school year, saying some of the students made fun of my last name, pretending they didn't understand if it was tall or chief, a few made war whoop whenever they saw me and asked why didn't wear
Those are my father took scalps after a while they became accustomed to me, but experience was, but the experience was painful. Eventually I turned the spelling of my last name into one word: everything in school was in strict alphabetical order and I wanted to avoid confusion. She did eventually take the first name, Maria to serve placate friends and professional advisers. It was kind of a good compromise. She was willing to live with because they were still continuing to encourage her to shift tall chief. the tall Shiva to sound, more russian she'd, been dancing with ballet routes for two years when, in nineteen forty four russian choreographer George Ballantine joined the true, while they were working as the bans on possible for the Broadway show song of Norway, and this meeting would prove to be pivotal, bought both artistically and personally brutality. Bouncing is often considered to be the creator of american style violet ballet in a lot of that was in collaboration with her and when
He described her reaction when first working with balancing in an interview that she did later in her life. She said this is how she described her inner monologue. I am seeing music. This is it I was a musician myself and I thought I am in my place now. I knew that that's. way. I wanted to dance another time. Tell chief said of the wedding a choreographer. I never really understood until balancing what ballet was all about and I'm August sixteenth of ninety four Six, she imbalance Jean married. She was twenty one of the time when he was forty two and you might think that a marriage between two famed artists would be I'll fire and passion but told you ve never really described it. That way, in fact, and balancing Proposed it seem quite sudden to her and she told him she didn't even know she loved him and he's a thousand k, but the next day she accepted
and when she spoke of their marriage outside of dance, ascended, pleasant but really quite tame. There has even been some speculation that it really was not a particularly romantic coupling. Their passion was really in their work, dancing with him, really changed and refined tall teeth as a dancer she became leader and stronger and really keenly aware of how every mechanism of her body had to work to perform his intense choreography. So when describing this period of artistic growth, she said quote what did I learn? I learned to turn out how to point my toes properly where I belonged where to place my body
muscles had to be developed every one. Otherwise, there was no way I was going to dance his valet's and soon after their marriage, the duello actually left ballet roofs. They waited for her contract to be up, and then they travelled to France, where touchy performed at the Paris Opera Valley and nineteen, forty seven that meet her the first american dancer to do so a low just as aside now, her sister Marjorie did eventually become like a of the regular so with the Paris opera valet and was with them for many years. The balance sheet for his part, really loved France and he actually might have wanted to stay there more or less permanently under different conditions, but the Paris opera was really right with problems at the time there was a post war decline and the operas We as director had actually been ousted for collaborating with the Nazis, the stage conditions or poor. They became really.
that balancing the his new bride were somehow expected to save this whole operation, and in fact they were actually he pretty successful. In that regard, the critics had been pretty divided before any of the problems, as happened they seemed some them seem really leary about this unknown American, but once she they viewed there, the universally praise, tall, cheese dancing and her work with balancing and in many ways this really reinvigorated interests and faith in the opera house in its work. It wasn't long before the newlyweds returned to North America,
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wowed audiences and earned a claim for both dancer and choreographer. She also performed your idiocy in Orpheus with Valentines choreography, and that really cemented the role of the New York City ballet as part of the New York cultural scene. yeah. I, if you ever want to see their some great footage of her performing Firebird that will include, owing to you in the chair, notes its serious so amazing, because she does had such strength and such grace. She was tall wish really just a beautiful breathtaking dancer, It is no secret that balancing had many muses who he became both romantically professionally, linked to over his lifetime and Maria did not stay his love for terribly long. They want a separate in nineteen fifty one. officially dissolved the marriage and nineteen fifty two, but they kept elaborating creatively after that, but ass,
countries move for mused meares, often developing both the dancer and his choreography style in Tandem Maria took opportunities elsewhere. She would return to her home company and his choreography over and over, but that they have other places Well there. It was really a whirlwind time for tall to eat her fame and are still kept. Her demand all over the world in nineteen. Fifty two, she did another film role. She played the role of fame dancer Anna Pavlovna Investor Williams movie. in dollar mermaid ass. She went back and start in this as the sugar plums very unbalanced original production of the net cracker nineteen. Fifty four she performed the american Ballet Theatre. She partnered with the most well known dancers. The time, including Andrea Glib Ski area,
and rode off an array of, and she was actually romantically linked to several of the the dancers that she partnered with, although only briefly in each case, back home June, twenty nine nineteen. Fifty three was declared Maria, how chief day by the Oklahoma Legislature and the Osage DR bestowed, title of princess upon her, not long after she and balancing had broken up tall chief married L. Moors nets involve who is a pilot but that union did not last and they were actually divorced. Two years later in eighteen, fifty four in the following year. She met her third husband, Henry De Buzz passion, junior and passion, was from Chicago Construction, family and completely outside the art world, and its she's often quoted as saying this in such a sort of charming quote, which is why they could so popular. But she describes him in. by saying he was very happy outgoing and knew nothing about ballet. Very refreshing
of them honeymoon all over Europe, but it was basically a working vacation brutality who was on tour at the time any fifty nine, a couple welcomed a daughter, alleys and Maria took time off from her dancing, but once for maternity leave ended, she was really happy to return to the stage for several more years as the nineteen sixty three on balance sheet had really shifted. His obsession is a choreographer to dancer Suzanne Feral, who was twenty years younger than tall chief. Her style was much more. Sort of ethereal and lyrical, whereas tall cheese has been very fluid and very strong. He was just kind of shifting gears in terms of what he wanted to do, so he and taught you can work having the same creed of relationship that they had had for awhile
Tal thieves, final performance was Romeo and Juliet which she danced as part of the Bell Telephone our on television. She was ready to retire from performing after this, but not so much from the whole world of dance at balance sheets urging he actually took on the job of heading up Germany's Hombre ballet, but she did not stay there for very long. At this point, her daughter release with five she was about to start school and her husband, Buzz was still working in Chicago was a family business. He couldn't really just pick up and relocate so Maria decided that it was really in the families best interests for her to return to the United States. She transition from dancing to teaching and she was appointed the artistic director for the Lyric opera, ballet of Chicago. She also founded the Chicago City by way, and she served as its artistic director for seven years until it had its doors. Ninety ninety,
with a year of honours for her. She was honoured by the Kennedy Centre for her contributions to the arts, the United States and she was conducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame nineteen Nine was a mixed bag. She received, national metal of arts by the? U S, government, which is basically the highest honor. That's an artist can receive, but it was also challenging for the famed answer, because her husband Buzz was charged the tax evasion and he was eventually to two years in prison, but through out at all, she remain steadfast. She stayed by his side. Her husband buzz died in two thousand for.
the nine years after that, after suffering a broken heath and some other issues. Maria died on April, eleventh twenty thirteen. So just last year in Chicago Illinois, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, she was eighty eight and to close out Holly wanted to finish with a few quotes from people in marine life, in the words of one of her proteges Kenneth VON Heidegger, who was the founder of the Chicago Festival, nay, she would teach classical ballet, not just technically, but she would go beyond that and tell you how the laws of physics help you achieve great elevation at great velocity, her daughter, Elise, was a poet and wrote her dynamic presents lit up the room. I will miss her passion commitments: U R, r and devotion to her family. She raised the bar high and strove for excellence in everything she did and choreographer. Jacques them was who had been a junior dancer at the age of fifty
with the New York City. By way when Tal chief danced her fame, Firebird role set of the ballerina when you thought russian. By way, it was all over with English, ballet was Fontaine for a mirror. in that way, it was tall chief. She was grand in the grandest way. I thought you might like doing this one I did and I get so choked up over the stuff people said about circus yeah I was. I was basically I've been you know I pretty much in France, it at least get ideas represents a couple weeks ahead of when I research them and I had been sort of poking around looking for something that was related to a native American per centre or native american history, and this was based
We something I stumbled across that immediately thought Holly well, and there is an additional story that we could possibly explored something. The future kind of related will very much related to her. There were five kind of prominent dancers that came out of native America around the same time. Her sister is included in that group and for some reason they just really all sort of prospered in the arts world. It did some really amazing an incredible a noteworthy thing, so she was is probably the most famous of them. But if you have you know a half hour or more to kill it, google her and look at videos of her mind. She was so well spoken in just the epitome of elegance and grace, and wit. You know: sheets spoke of George balancing throughout their life, even after their failed marriage with
fondness and she clearly so respected him as an artist, and I just I can watch footage of her all day long. She was really amazing before I get more, took up and start crying hook, a listener mail which is about Bela Lugosi, and this is from our listener. Molly said I love your podcast Nobel would go see. I had asked my dad to re. Tell me the story of when he met him. My dad was a student at Saint Louis University in the early nineties. Fifties any worked in the theater department. Bela play Boris played the Boris, Karlov role and arsenic, an old lace at a production there one year and my dad was running lights for the show that said, the head of the Theatre Department would invite out of town, gets to come and spent an hour, or so with the students which Bela did dad couldn't remember anything he said, but he rent remembered him. Ass quote an extraordinarily decrepit old man. However, when the curtain came up, ballast
air during the show enter through a window and damp remembered this old man, leaping through the window ass. If he had shed forty years, he said when he met him. He was a very nice old man, but on stage he was very scary. I love that story in a kind of holds parallel to the forty Ackerman story that we told in the course of the pot cast about how You know he would be one way, but then, when he was on in public, sorted morphed into this much bigger grander character with us, because if you have any memories of Bela, Lugosi or connections to Marie authorities, which many of you might see the recent figure you can write to us and share those district. I got to have the worst economic connected as things to slash missed industry on twitter atmosphere, history, at least in history, that tumblr
on printers dot com. Slashed missed in history cannot wait a bunch pictures of Maria talking and you can also go to our spreadsheet store. It missed in history that Richard our camp for all kinds of mist in history, good, easily shirt, mug and fangs you'd like to learn a little bit more about what we talked about today. Being that way Our parents, I trust of works type in the word ballet in one of them- is a most important valley terms that kind of a criminal on some of the basics. You can do research there. You can also visit us at our website, which is MR history. Dot com for shone out in an archive of all of our epoch said you would like to research on most anything else. Your Michael conjure, as we said so to say
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