#TBT: Maria Tallchief and Royes Fernandez in “Les Sylphides” (1963)

In the early years of professional ballet in the United States, influential American dancers played key roles in changing perspectives of ballet as a strictly European art form. Maria Tallchief and Royes Fernandez were among those dancers who helped establish and define an American ballet aesthetic and identity: she as the original prima ballerina of New York City Ballet and he as American Ballet Theatre's Siegfried in the company's first full-length production of Swan Lake. These two exceptional performers are mesmerizing together in this 1963 excerpt from Fokine's Les Sylphide.


Fluid and generous, Tallchief and Fernandez embrace space as they dance to Chopin's gentle waltz. They cultivate calm through their movement—Tallchief with lush port de bras and epaulement, and Fernandez with a deep plié that brings lightness to his jumps. At 3:44 Fernandez lifts Tallchief above his shoulder and she floats up with the gentle sway of a pendulum. They then waltz backward in unison, bowing deep to nearly graze the floor. Both have an exquisite sense of line and move through elegant shapes in their solos and in their partnered moments. Although so much has changed in the ballet world since these two graced the stage, watching dancers like these, whose accomplishments put those very changes in motion, never gets old. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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