At the June 1982 commencement ceremonies, Northwestern University gave Maria Tallchief an honorary degree, Doctor of Fine Arts, to be specific. I was a dean then at NU and on stage for those ceremonies. That gave me the opportunity to walk over to where Ms. Tallchief was sitting and to tell her how much I had enjoyed her dancing—in effect thirty years earlier and more. She had been a star with the New York City Ballet which I had attended fairly frequently when they performed in their first New York home, the City Center of Music and Drama—formerly the Mecca Temple. While I had seen a “classical” ballet now and then without getting hooked, I very much took to the concentrated (a feeble one-word descriptor) choreography of Balanchine. I went to many performances, later with Fannia and Douglas Davis, a college friend, a knowledgeable balletomane. That is when I saw Maria Tallchief dance.
To my knowledge, I never saw Balanchine himself, though he might well have stood near the stage during performances of his ballets. Of those, there were a great many! Gottlieb lists 92 of them,* many of them truly great—more than justifying a claim I have often made, that Picasso, Stravinsky, and Balanchine were the three brightest stars of 20th century art.
Of these ballets I of course saw a couple of handfuls over the few New York years when we were regulars. There are a some few for which I can even now conjure up bits of moving pictures; among others, the Prodigal Son, Concerto Barocco, and the Symphony in C, improbably set to Bizet’s teenage opus. Especially vivid in my mind is that work’s second movement, with the long legs of Tanaquil LeClercq moving back and forth between two wide circles of arms. This was before the tragic fate that had polio permanently prevent her from dancing.
After we left New York, no more Balanchine ballets, not counting some seen on the computer. My last visit to see the New York City Ballet live, now at the Koch Theater with its great Nadelman sculpture, was the day after my New York City wedding to Gissa. My old friend Carl Hovde was our witness and the donor of two good seats to the ballet. I am ashamed to say that I do not remember that evening’s program.
______________________*Robert Gottlieb, George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker (Harper-Collins e-books).