Ballerina of Osage descent and the first American Indian to become premiere danseuse etoile in the Paris Opera, Marjorie Louise Tallchief was born in Denver, Colorado, to Alexander and Ruth Porter Tallchief, during a family vacation. She was raised in Fairfax, Oklahoma, with her brother, Gerald Tallchief, and her sister, ballerina Maria Tallchief. As a young girl, she moved to Los Angeles, California, with her family to further her ballet training.
After working under Ernest Belcher, Bronislava Nijinska, and David Linchine, Tallchief performed with various dance companies: the American Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1946-47), the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas (1948-55), Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet (guest artist, 1958-62), and the Harkness Ballet (prima ballerina, 1964-66). Her most acclaimed roles were performed in Night Shadow (1950), Annabel Lee (1951), Idylle (1954), Romeo and Juliet (1955), and Giselle (1957).
Tallchief has served as director of dance for the Civic Ballet Academy in Dallas, Texas, and for the City Ballet in Chicago, Illinois. In 1989 she accepted the position of director of dance for the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, where she remained until her retirement in 1993. Her repertoire included classical and contemporary dance roles that exhibited her talents as one of the most versatile ballet dancers of the twentieth century. During her career she performed throughout North America and Europe. She has danced for many heads of state, including John F. Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Many honors and awards have come to Tallchief. In November of 1991 she was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She is featured in a mural honoring the state's Indian ballerinas. The mural Flight of Spirit, by Mike Larson, is in the Great Rotunda of the Oklahoma Capitol. The University of Oklahoma in Norman also presented her with a distinguished service award in May 1992.
Tallchief was married to artistic director, ballet master, and choreographer George Skibine on August 5, 1947 in Vichy, France. Their twin sons, Alexander and George, became attorneys. At the end of the twentieth century Tallchief resided in Boca Raton, Florida.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Anne Doyle, "Maria and Marjorie Tallchief," Russian American Illustrated (April 1962). "The Harid Conservatory, A Dream Comes True," Dance Pages (Winter 1991). Lili Cockerille Livingston, American Indian Ballerinas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997). "Marjorie Tallchief Skibine,"Archives, Oklahoma Heritage Association, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Candy Franklin Short
© Oklahoma Historical Society