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Yvonne Chouteau, husband Miguel Terekhov and Rosella Hightower

31 January 2016

Ballerina Yvonne Chouteau Remembered

Photos: Left: Yvonne Chouteau in Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo role 1950s. Right: Yvonne Chouteau, husband Miguel Terekhov, and Oklahoma ballerina Rosella Hightower (foreground) in rehersal at the Oklahoma City Ballet.

Ballerinas more celebrated than sports stars. In 1950s Oklahoma in which I grew up, the five Oklahoma-born ballerinas of Native American heritage were more celebrated than any sports star that the state produced. As Washington Post columnist Nora Boustany explained: Their remarkable accomplishments showcased American dance and talent to the world when Russian stars still dominated that [ballet] scene.

Of the five: Yvonne Chouteau, Moselyne Larkin, Rosella Hightower, Marjorie and Maria Tallchief, Yvonne Chouteau was the only one I saw dance in a live performance. An exciting, unforgettable evening. Though all five were often seen on national television programs, and the media in Oklahoma covered them extensively—especially in 1957 (I was in junior-high) when all five returned to Oklahoma to perform in the Oklahoma Indian Ballerina Festival honoring them.

As a result of all this 1957 ballet fervor, my mother ordered and had custom-framed and hung on my bedroom wall two large (12 x 36 inch) Dega-ish prints of a ballerina in pink tutu in two classic poses. Lovely art for a girl’s room and symbolic of my continuing interest in ballet.

In 1963, while I was a student at the University of Oklahoma, Yvonne Chouteau and her husband Miguel Terekhov, founded the School of Dance at the university. Not long after they became part of the university faculty, they gave an evening performance of some of their best-loved Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo roles. Both had been principal dancers with that ballet company. Both dancers were in their mid-30s and in top form.

The Chouteau-Terekhov performance was an opportunity not to be missed. I arrived early at the auditorium to make certain I nabbed a front row center seat. In OU’s Holmberg Hall, front row center was only a few feet from the edge of the stage. A couple of the performers' turns and leaps I felt I was close to having a ballet shoe on my nose — but my seat was a wonderful vantage point from which to view these accomplished ballet stars perform. In Miguel Terekhov’s leaps, he seemed to fly through the air from one side of the stage to another. Yvonne Chouteau was enchantingly graceful.

Yvonne Chouteau was of French and Shawnee-Cherokee heritage. She was a direct descendant of Marie-Thérèse Bourgeois Chouteau, the indomitable French matriarch of the Chouteau family that established a business empire in New France in the days when much of the central portion of the USA was part of France.

When Napoleon sold those 827,000 square miles to the United States in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Yvonne Chouteau’s great-great-great grandfather (and son of Marie) Jean-Pierre Chouteau as his representative to the Osage. Jean-Pierre Chouteau a few years before in 1796 had established the first permanent Euroamerican settlement in what is today the state of Oklahoma.

Though born in Ft Worth, Yvonne Chouteau grew up her father’s home town Vinita in the far northeastern part of Oklahoma where the Chouteaus were a prominent family. An early dance prodigy, she studied at the School of American Ballet in New York. At age 14 she became a member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In addition to founding the School of Dance at the University of Oklahoma, Yvonne Chouteau and her husband founded the Oklahoma City Ballet.

Though Yvonne Chouteau performed many roles in her professional career, one much-loved by ballet patrons was of the Glove Seller in the ballet Gaîté Parisienne set to music by Jacques Offenbach, that composer of quintessentially French-flavored music. As you can see from her photos, her appearance was much more that of her French heritage than her Native American.

After a long life of performing and teaching classical ballet, Yvonne Chouteau died 24 January 2016 at her home in Oklahoma City at age 86. In his tribute to her in The New York Times, arts critic Jack Anderson called Yvonne Chouteau “a dancer of great radiance and lyricism.”

How fortunate I was to see Yvonne Chouteau dance.

imags: courtesy Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo archives and Oklahoma City Ballet..

be chic, stay slimAnne Barone