Hightower, Rosella: Ballerina and school founder passes on

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) 11-08

Rosella Hightower
1978, AP file photo from
Cannes, France

Rosella Hightower, an Oklahoma-born ballerina who became a leading figure in the European dance world and founded a major ballet school in France, has passed away. She was 88.

Hightower passed away Nov. 4 at her home in Cannes, France, after a series of strokes, said Iris Perben, a spokeswoman for Cannes City Hall.     

Philippe Bender, director of the Regional Orchestra of Cannes Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur, told the French regional daily Nice-Matin he had immense admiration for Hightower.

“Her vision for the future of dance was fascinating,” he said. “For me, more than the film festival which only lasts two weeks, she was the pride of Cannes.”

Hightower, of Choctaw descent, was one of five American Indian ballerinas from Oklahoma who have received special honors in the state. The most famous is Maria Tallchief, who worked with George Balanchine on such masterpieces as “Firebird” and the Balanchine version of “The Nutcracker.”

Born in Durwood, Okla., in 1920, Hightower pursued a career in ballet that took her to the great capitals of Europe as well as important appearances in the United States.

“There is a veritable singing tone to the movement that flows through her body,” a New York Times critic wrote in 1956 when she performed the title role of “Giselle” in New York. “This essential lyricism never deserts her, even in moments of dramatic intensity.”

Hightower had traveled to France in 1937 and eventually became a member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where Tallchief also danced for a time

In 1947, Hightower joined de Cuevas Ballet, named for the Chilean-born Marquis George de Cuevas. She also was involved with the Marseilles Ballet, La Scala Ballet and the Paris Opera Ballet.

Hightower opened the Ecole Superieure de Danse de Cannes in 1962, and it became one of Europe’s leading ballet schools. Cannes Mayor Bertrand Brochand said she “left her mark on her time and on generations of dancers.”

In 1997, the five Indian ballerinas were reunited when they were proclaimed as official Oklahoma treasures. The others were Tallchief; her sister, Marjorie Tallchief; Moscelyne Larkin; and Yvonne Chouteau.

For the occasion, artist Mike Larsen created “The Flight of Spirit,” a mural depicting the five dancers, for the rotunda of the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Hightower is survived by her daughter Dominique Robier.