Celebrated Ballerina Yvonne Chouteau Walks On at 86

By Sandra Schulman
News From Indian Country

The idol of little girls everywhere, Yvonne Chouteau, a former principal dancer of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo who emerged as one of a celebrated group of American Indian ballerinas of Oklahoma dancers called the Five Moons walked – or perhaps danced on – January 24th at her home in Oklahoma City. She was 86.

 Chouteau was a founder of the dance school at the Oklahoma City Ballet, one of the leading dance institutions in the Southwest.

A dancer of great beauty, poise, radiance and lyricism, Chouteau was one of five prominent Native American dancers who were raised in Oklahoma. The others were Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin, Maria Tallchief and her sister Marjorie Tallchief, who is now the last survivor.

The women were called the state’s “Five Moons,” and were commemorated in works of art including a set of bronze sculptures that were installed on the lawn of the Tulsa Historical Society, and a mural by Mike Larsen that hangs in the rotunda of the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Part French and part Shawnee-Cherokee, Myra Yvonne Chouteau was born into a pioneering Southwestern family in Fort Worth on March 7, 1929, an only child of Corbett Edward Chouteau and the former Lucy Annette Taylor. The family soon moved to Vinita, Okla., and her father, who was known as C. E. Chouteau, became a prominent American Indian figure in the state.

Ms. Chouteau was a direct descendant of Maj. Jean Pierre Chouteau (1758-1849), who established Oklahoma’s oldest white settlement in 1796.

She was a natural and a child prodigy as a dancer — she liked to joke that if one reversed the syllables in her surname, “Chou-teau” became “Toe-shoe” — Ms. Chouteau started dancing when she was 2 years old in Oklahoma and then in New York City, where she attended the School of American Ballet.

When she was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at 14, she became the company’s youngest dancer at the time. Her first solo role was when she danced the Prayer variation in “Coppélia” in 1945, an interpretation that the critic Edwin Denby, in his book “Looking at the Dance,” called “lovely in every way.”

Now firmly on pointe, major roles soon followed in “Raymonda,” “Paquita,” “The Nutcracker” and “Pas de Quatre.”

Describing Ms. Chouteau in performance, the British critic P. W. Manchester wrote, “Although she is tall and strongly built, she is very light and brings an ecstatic quality to her dancing.”

During a 1982 interview with New York News Service, Chouteau spoke of how her heritage had enriched her dancing.

“The Indian people are very artistic as a whole,” Chouteau said. “We are also very non-verbal, and so I think dance is a perfect expression of the Indian soul.”

As one of the five noted dancers, a similar spirit helped propel then to being named Oklahoma’s treasures by former Gov. Frank Keating in 1997. They were honored with a mural, “Flight of Spirit,” in the state Capitol rotunda. The mural artist, Mike Larsen, is an Oklahoma resident of Chickasaw descent.

Ms. Chouteau married her fellow Ballet Russe dancer Miguel Terekhov in 1956 and left the company the next year, when she was expecting a baby. Always proud of being an Oklahoman — in 1947 she became the first person under the age of 50 to be inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame — she returned to the state and settled there with her husband.

In 1960, Chouteau and Terekhov founded and designed the dance program at the University of Oklahoma. They also helped organize the Oklahoma City Civic Ballet now called Oklahoma City Ballet.

“I think it was fate that we came to Oklahoma,” Terekhov said. “Oklahoma has been good to us and has acknowledged the work that we have done.”

“She will always be a treasure to me,” Terekhov said. “I am very proud of my wife’s accomplishment.” Terekhov walked on in 2012.

Robert Mills, artistic director of the Oklahoma City Ballet, said that without the works of Chouteau and Terekhov, he would not be there today.

“What I admire most about Yvonne and Miguel is their dedication for their art and the roads that they have paved for others to follow,” he said. “I hope they would be proud of how far Oklahoma City Ballet has gone.”

Ms. Chouteau is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth A. Impallomeni and Christina Conway, and two grandsons.

The Five Moons Ballerinas:

Maria Tallchief: Born in Fairfax of Osage heritage in 1925. Marjorie Tallchief: Born in Fairfax of Osage heritage in 1927. Younger sister of Maria Tallchief. Yvonne Chouteau: Born in Vinita of Shawnee-Cherokee heritage in 1927. Moscelyne Larkin: Born in Miami of half-Russian and half-Shawnee-Peoria in 1926. Rosella Hightower: Born in Durwood of Choctaw heritage in 1920.

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