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Dance Films at the Paley Center for Media

by Marian Horosko
November 18, 2009
The Paley Center for Media
25 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019

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The Paley Center for Media at 25 West 52nd Street near Fifth Avenue, has inaugurated an additional free screening series to their list of presentations: "Words On Dance." Maria Tallchief (Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief, born in Fairfax, Oklahoma) was the subject of the first video presentation in the Center's screening theater. Produced by Deborah DuBowy, a dance lover, who founded the series in 1994 in San Francisco, has a simple format: conversation with an artist about their career, memories, family, structured by a moderator, including performance video, some archival footage, some from television shows, some from small performances.

In addition to an interview guided by Evelyn Cisneros, former principal of the San Francisco Ballet, the first program featured film clips from Tallchief's private collection: "Sylvia Pas de Deux" (1876) with Michael Maule, rechoreographed by Balanchine in 1951; "Firebird" pas de deux with Michael Maule in 1951; "Variations After Degas" choreographed by James Starbuck for the Voice of Firestone TV show in 1962; "Flower Festival at Genzano" with Rudolph Nureyev; "Don Quixote" pas de deux with Erick Bruhn and "Allegro Brillante" with members of NYC Ballet for the Bell Telephone Hour.

Tallchief was born Elizabeth Marie Tall chief in 1925 in Fairfax, Oklahoma, to a full blooded Osage father and a Scots Irish mother, who was determined to give Marie and her sister, Marjorie the finest dance training available. In 1933, the family relocated to Los Angeles from their Indian reservation, where they studied with Bronislava Nijinska (sister of Nijinsky) and Ernest Belcher, (no mention of Mia Slavenska).

(Moving from the reservation must be a fascinating story, not further mentioned in her interview. Was her talent so obvious that her mother took her and her sister to Los Angeles to seek their future? No mention about this decision in the interview.) Tallchief joined Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942-1947, became a soloist, and met Balanchine (1944), who was invited to choreograph several ballets for the company, while sister Marjorie (two years younger) joined Ballet Theater in 1944, then met and married George Skibine, director and choreographer of the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas in 1947.

Tallchief joined Balanchine's new company, Ballet Society, later to become New York City Ballet, where she became the prima ballerina; married Balanchine (1946-1952). She made no comment about her years with Mr. B. and here the fault lies with Cisneros as interviewer. Tallchief is gracious when mentioning her replacement as Balanchine's star, Suzanne Farrell, but gives no clue as to her relationship to Mr. B, who had a staggering schedule as director of NYCB and choreographer-in-chief, guest choreographer and teacher of his company members. The role of an interviewer is not to pry into a personal life, but to gain insight into the work and inspiration of an artist, that cannot be gained from a reference book.

Maria (and I speak from experience as a former company member), can handle any question, however put. While her post-performing career did not equal her fame, she was given many honors including a Kennedy Center Honor in 1996, the American National Medal of Arts by the NEA in 1999 and a tribute from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Best footage, not shown was taken by producer Norman Campbell for the L'Heure de Concert in Montreal. Campbell traveled to NY to watch performances before he filmed NYCB in Canada. Balanchine, himself, directed some of these films based upon his experience with directing Hollywood films. He changed entrances and exits from static shots to exciting movement.

"Words on Dance," continues with the same format free of admission at the Paley Center with other dancers and footage. Contact www.wordsondance.org for future programs.
Maria Tallchief in The Firebird

Maria Tallchief in The Firebird

Photo © & courtesy of George Platt Lynes

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