Marjorie Tallchief, Acclaimed Ballerina, Is Dead at 95

Marjorie Tallchief, Acclaimed Ballerina, Is Dead at 95

Marjorie Tallchief, an American dancer who rose to worldwide prominence in the 1950s with major companies in France and the United States, died on Nov. 30 at her home in Delray Beach, Fla. She died at the age of 95.

Nathalie Skibine, her granddaughter, verified her death.

Ms. Tallchief was often recognized as the younger sister of Maria Tallchief, one of George Balanchine’s main ballerinas in the New York City Ballet, by reviewers and reference books. But she had her own individual character as a flexible dancer who excelled in a wide range of ballets, from 19th-century classics and Balanchine’s compositions to experimental dances with a poetic touch that was popular in France in the 1940s and 1950s when she performed with two companies.

She performed in the Paris Opera Ballet from 1957 to 1962, and when her husband, George Skibine, became ballet director and choreographer, she was asked to join as a permanent principal.

Despite the fact that the Tallchief sisters followed separate jobs in different organizations, they remained close and proud of their Native American ancestry as members of the Osage Nation. Several formal tributes from the state of Oklahoma have been paid to them throughout the years.

Marjorie performed with Ballet Theater (later American Ballet Theater) and with the visiting Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas from France and Monaco in New York for a decade, from 1947 to 1956.

“A great, dynamic dancer with a slender and agile figure,” said French writer Irène Lidova in a 1950 review, adding, “Through her quasi-acrobatic virtuosity, she epitomizes the ideal dancer for our day.”

When the Cuevas company reproduced Bronislava Nijinska’s iconic avant-garde ballet, “Le Train Bleu,” that year, New York Times dance reviewer John Martin remarked on the streamlined quality. “She makes the girl in the tunic a striking figure,” he said of Ms. Tallchief’s performance as an androgynous young lady in blue, adding that she also maintained “the crisp, clear manner of the choreography’s design.”

Ms. Tallchief subsequently danced with Ruth Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet and the Harkness Ballet as a guest dancer.

Marjorie Louise Tall Chief was born in Denver, Colorado, on Oct. 19, 1926, 21 months after her sister, when her parents were on vacation. (When she and her sister started dancing professionally, they combined their surnames.)

After oil was found on the Osage reservation near Fairfax, Okla., their father, Alexander Joseph Tall Chief, a member of the Osage Nation, lived off his portion of the oil profits that had been arranged with the federal government. Ruth (Porter) Tall Chief, a Scottish-Irish housewife, pushed her daughters to pursue ballet and relocated the family to Beverly Hills, California, in pursuit of more professional ballet instructors.

The family enjoyed a comfortable life because of their oil money. The girls trained ballet with two well-known instructors: Ernest Belcher and David Lichine, a choreographer and dancer who is married to Tatiana Riabouchinska, one of Balanchine’s first “baby ballerinas.” Ms. Nijinska, Vaslav Nijinsky’s sister and a prominent choreographer and dancer with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, was their greatest instructor.

Ms. Nijinska told critic Jack Anderson recently in California that she urged the sisters not to dance in the same company “because one would cancel out the other.”

In 2013, Maria Tallchief passed away. Alexander and George Skibine, Majorie Tallchief’s sons, and four grandchildren survive her.

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