The untold story of Maria Tallchief, who rose from an Indian community in Oklahoma to become America’s first prima ballerina, will come to life on November 2 when Peninsula College’s Magic of Cinema screens Sandy Osawa’s PBS documentary on the legendary dancer. The film will begin at 7:00 pm in Maier Performance Hall.
Osawa has devoted her life to presenting alternative images of Native Americans on film and indicates that the story of Tallchief needed telling because there are very few good programs on Native American women. A member of the Makah Tribe and a graduate of Port Angeles High School, she says she is looking forward to showing her film in her own home-town area.
Osawa has shown her films internationally and is now based in Seattle, where she formed her production company, Upstream Productions, with her husband, Yasu Osawa. She will participate in a question-and-answer session immediately following the showing of Maria Tallchief.
Osawa tells the story of Tallchief through interviews with Maria, her sister Marjorie, and Yvotte Choteau, three of the five famous Native American ballerinas. Their stories are enhanced by rare archival dance clips, Tallchief's personal photos and diary, and interviews with dance colleagues and critics who were there to witness the achievements of this legendary dancer. The archival clips include cuts from Swan Lake, Pas de Dix, Orpheus, Firebird, Black Swan and Les Sylphides.
Tallchief grew up in Oklahoma’s Osage Indian community, the daughter of an Osage father and a Scots Irish mother. When she was eight, the family relocated to Los Angeles, where Maria and her sisters studied with the leading ballet dancers of the day. By 1942, Tallchief was ready to perform professionally, and she joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where she quickly rose to the rank of soloist.
She first worked with George Balanchine in 1944, when he was invited to choreograph several ballets for the Ballet Russe and later joined his new company, Ballet Society. Marriage between the two followed, and although that was not to last, their artistic relationship did. Osawa’s film indicates that Tallchief’s performance in Orpheus in 1948 helped lead to the founding of the New York City Ballet. Tallchief went on to dance the principal roles in several Balanchine ballets, including Firebird, Nutcracker, Scotch Symphony, Pas de Dix, Allegro Brillante, The Four Temperaments and Sylvia Pas de Deux. Many of these early works are shown in a montage of silent clips with music added, as ballet was not yet being recorded on film in the 1940s and 1950s.
During her long career, Tallchief was also a principal dancer with American Ballet Theater and a guest artist at the Royal Danish Ballet. Among her many honors, Tallchief was recognized in 1996 by a Kennedy Center Honors and by the American National Medal of Arts by the NEA in 1999. In 2006, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City recognized her with "A Tribute to Ballet Great Maria Tallchief."
Osawa’s documentary on Maria Tallchief began playing on PBS stations in November of 2007, starting with a statewide broadcast in Oklahoma. It was also the opening film at the 2007 American Indian Film Festival.
Maria Tallchief is the fifth PBS documentary on contemporary Native American issues done by Sandra Osawa and Yasu Osawa. Their daughter, Saza, was the associate producer. Their other films include On and Off the Res’ with Charlie Hill, Pepper’s Pow Wow, Lighting the Seventh Fire and Usual and Accustomed Places. An assortment of these films will be available for purchase after the screening.
Sandra Osawa has been a producer and independent videomaker since 1970. Among the many awards she has received are a United Nations Fellowship to study at New York University's Center for Media, History and Culture in 1996; a National Video Resources' Media Arts Fellowship in 2002; and the Taos Mountain Award for lifetime achievement at the 1996 Taos Talking Pictures Festival. She was recently honored by her alma mater, Lewis and Clark College, with an outstanding alumna award for community service.
Osawa has taught script writing at Evergreen State College and video production at Seattle Community College. She is a member of the Writer's Guild of America and her poems are published in Dancing on the Rim of the World, an anthology of Northwest Coast Native poets. Before becoming a filmmaker, Osawa created and directed the first Indian Head Start early childhood education program in Washington State, while serving as the War on Poverty's Community Action Director for the Makah Nation. In this capacity she began cultural revival efforts in Makah song, dance, and language, starting in 1965 long before most tribes had started such programs. These cultural reviitalization efforts continued until 1969, when she left for Los Angeles to study filmmaking.
She did graduate work at UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television as well as the Universities of Washington and Oregon.
Admission to the film is $5 general; students will be admitted free-of-charge with a current student ID.