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Oklahoma ballerina Maria Tallchief showcased in special
"Maria Tallchief,” a new documentary premiering at 9 p.m. Sunday on OETA, profiles the life and artistry of the Oklahoman, who rose from an American Indian community to become America's first major ballerina.For more than a decade, Tallchief ruled the New York City Ballet — a company she helped ignite through a partnership and marriage to choreographer George Balanchine. Admired by millions, she was America's ballerina throughout the 1940s and '50s. In 1953, President Eisenhower declared her woman of the year. The film is layered with a close eye on Tallchief's cultural background, as well as the history of the emergence of ballet in America. Interviews with Osage elders George Tallchief, Raymond Red Corn, and Harry Redeagle highlight this cultural ground. Tallchief's role in "Orpheus” captured critical attention and led to the founding of the New York City Ballet. Her follow-up leads in "Firebird,” "Swan Lake” and as the first sugar plum fairy in "The Nutcracker” helped complete the arrival of ballet in America. Francis Mason, a dance critic, recalls the thunderous ovation Tallchief received at the premier of "Firebird” in 1949. Intimate character glimpses of Tallchief are provided by longtime friends Vida Brown and Helen Kramer and by fellow Oklahoma ballet star Yvonne Chouteau. Tallchief's sister, Marjorie Tallchief, who became a leading ballet star in Europe, contributes significantly. She recalls that their mother always wanted to be a ballerina, but she was poor and couldn't afford dance lessons.