From the Publisher
“American Indian Ballerinas is a wonderful achievement.” Jacqueline Onassis
“Ms. Livingston, herself a former dancer, is thorough about her subjects, helpfully setting the careers of the four ballerinas within the context of the American Indian cultures from which they came.” New York Times
“A valuable addition to American ballet history” San Francisco Chronicle
A brief and unabashed celebration of the professional achievements of dancers Maria and Marjorie Tallchief (who are siblings), Rosella Hightower, and Yvonne Chouteau.
Livingston, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer who later became dance critic for the Tulsa Tribune, first met the four Oklahoma- born ballerinas as colleagues, which might have given her an advantage as their chronicler. But because Livingston has chosen to write primarily as a fan, the result is a work of minor regionalia and rudimentary dance chronology, despite the appeal of its topic and organizational breadth. Filled with sisterly rah-rahs, her book presents a quartet of classic female paragons who in meeting adversity can (tediously) do no wrong. Dutifully, Livingston recounts the tribal backgrounds of each ballerina and includes some sense of the family dynamics guiding the young dancer's education and her eventual triumphs. (The 12-year-old Chouteau, for example, traveled for ballet study to New York City in her father's "gold tone De Soto," with her "white Eskimo spitz, Fluffy.") Yet the writer is unable to characterize in vivid language who each dancer alchemized into as an onstage avatar. Instead, Livingston resorts to theatrical clichés in describing four remarkable dancersfrom Maria Tallchief's "special electricity" as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, to Hightower's "dauntless stamina," to Chouteau's "unparalleled lyricism." Especially in the case of Maria Tallchief, who did so much to galvanize and fulfill the vision of George Balanchine, readers may feel chagrined by the suggestion of a missed opportunity. As for Tallchief's marriage to Balanchine, as Livingston would have it, Balanchine "simply asked Maria to marry him"; she doesn't elaborate. The marriage is annulled with similar dispatch.
Of the four, Maria Tallchief leaves the strongest impression as someone who knows her own mind and is used to living by it; she should be the subject of a full-length biography. But not one written by Livingston.