The Five Moons, as they are known, were five Native American ballerinas from Oklahoma that went on to dance with the world’s most famous ballet companies, including Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris, Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and New York City Ballet. Bonnie Oda Homsey’s lecture on Sunday, Aug. 3 will illuminate their career highlights with 70 rarely-seen photographs from the 1930s to 60s, culled from the archives at the New York Performing Arts Library, The Library of Congress, The Balanchine Trust, and seven private collections. Get to know them a little better below before coming to Homsey’s lecture and panel featuring Virginia Johnson, Dance Theater of Harlem’s artistic director; Eduardo Vilaro, Ballet Hispanico’s artistic director and CEO; Jenifer Ringer, Dean of Trudl Zipper Dance Institute at the Colburn School; and Renae Williams Niles, Chief Operating Officer of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
Osage Nation, b. 1925, d. 2013
Maria Tallchief moved from Fairfax, Oklahoma to Los Angeles for further ballet training, and went on to dance with Ballet Russe, the Paris Opera Ballet, and then Ballet Society later renamed New York City Ballet–she was married to George Balanchine. She created and performed many starring roles, including the Sugar Plum Fairy in Balanchine’s Nutcracker.
Osage Nation, b. 1926
Marjorie Tallchief’s first dancing job was with Ballet Theater. She then followed her sister’s footsteps to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She became the first Native American première danseuse étoile with the Paris Opera Ballet, dancing famous roles including Juliet and Giselle during her time there.
Choctaw Nation, b. 1920, d. 2008
Rosella Hightower was invited by Leonide Massine to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo when she was just 18. When she was on tour with Colonel de Basil’s Ballet Russe in New York, she learned Giselle in five hours to replace the injured Alicia Markova. She was the first American to direct the Ballet de l’Opera Ballet.
Eastern Shawnee/Peorian, b. 1925, d. 2012
Moscelyne Larkin joined Colonel de Basil’s Original Ballet Russe at age 15 before moving to the New-York-based Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and later performed as the Prima Ballerina at the Radio City Music Hall. Up retirement, she founded the Tulsa Ballet and produced the First and Second Indian Ballerina Festivals.
Shawnee, b. 1929, d. 2016
Yvonne Chouteau had a scholarship at the School of American Ballet until age 14, when Alexandra Danilova recommended her for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Click here to see her perform Prayer from Coppelia, her first role at Ballet Russe.
“Their lives are stories of grit and heart; five moons becoming the stars in the ballet universe.
These young women entered a ballet world dictated by European traditions. But as their careers blossomed, they shattered perceptions of a ballerina’s looks and performance of roles in traditional ballets. They were muses for a new generation of choreographers including George Balanchine. The lecture moves into a panel discussion of ballet’s challenge to express American cultural values in an artform, developed from the exclusivity of 15th century court dances.”
–Bonnie Oda Homsey, panel leader
Visit Grand Performances to see When Moons Become Stars, August 3 at 8 p.m. to look deeper into the moons’ journey and learn what they can teach us about ballet today.
Compiled by Celine Kiner