Maria Tallchief, Balanchine and Guerlain


“One afternoon, we went to the House of Guerlain. George [Balanchine] wanted to choose a perfume for me. We sampled several before he settled on L’Heure Bleue (the expression the French have for twilight), a beautiful, subtle fragrance that I still use today. George dabbed some on my neck below my ear and lowered his head. His lips softly touched mine. The solemnity with which he conducted the perfume ritual, and the unexpected display of affection, was a surprise and was more fulfilling because of that. I felt gratified and loved” (p.66, Maria Tallchief By Maria Tallchief, Larry Kaplan)

The first time I’ve read this passage from the autobiography of a renowned ballerina Maria Tallchief, I felt both moved and saddened. The former reaction was elicited by the effect of perfume on these two people. The latter by my realization that obviously the love for L’Heure Bleue outlasted Tallchief’s marriage to Balanchine, a genius choreographer who changed the face of American ballet.

Whether one knows anything about ballet or not, this passage is a wonderful and rare glimpse into another woman’s relationship with scent. I hope to share more of such vignettes on these pages.

Photo: Maria Tallchief from Fargo Film Festival.



  • sweetlife: It is moving, V. So much wrapped up in such a small passage about the nature of their relationship, its beginnings and its likely ending…

    “I felt gratified and loved.”

    *sigh* July 6, 2009 at 6:24pm Reply

  • MJ: Hi Victoria,
    I had just finished reading Maria Tallchief’s amazing life story. Another fantastic depiction of the Balanchine era is, “I Remember Balanchine,” edited by Francis Mason. Is it true that Balanchine would buy a different perfume for each of his leading dancers so that he would know where they were in the studio? Don’t remember where I heard this. Could have been from the dance community in Chicago during the 60’s and 70’s. July 6, 2009 at 11:46pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: A, you’ve pointed out the same thing I felt. It was such an intimate moment, such a rare one to observe for an outsider. July 7, 2009 at 9:59am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: MJ, I am still waiting for Arlene Croce’s biography of Balanchine. By the looks of it, I should not hold my breath. 🙂

    I heard plenty of stories like this about him giving perfumes to his muses. For instance, Suzanne Farrell wore Diorissimo. Gelsey Kirkland mentioned it in his book too. Alexandra Danilova relates another perfume story about Balanchine in her autobiography “Choura.” Apparently, Balanchine returned from the US with a bottle of Atkinson’s perfume for her. “I threw that at him, too. ‘Coming to Paris,’ I said, ‘the city of perfume, and bringing me lousy English perfume!’ ” It was at the end of their relationship, needless to say. July 7, 2009 at 10:11am Reply

    • Lila: lol!! 😀 April 22, 2013 at 10:19am Reply

  • Zazie: What a romantic and moving anecdote!
    … and the comment on Atkinson is very funny indeed: he must have been [un]consciously looking for trouble!!! July 8, 2009 at 6:43am Reply

  • violetnoir: Poignant. Bittersweet. Fleeting, just like fragrance.

    Hugs! July 8, 2009 at 12:18pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Zazie, I think that they were at the breaking point of their relationship, so you are probably right! July 9, 2009 at 9:47am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: R, you’ve put it wonderfully!
    xo July 9, 2009 at 9:51am Reply

  • Susan Hood: In the early to mid-1970s, Esquire Magazine published an article on ballerinas and their perfumes. Wish I had that copy–my dad subscribed to it then, and I was a ballet student.

    From it I learned that Balanchine bought perfume for NYCB’s women dancers; recollect that he selected Replique for the blonde soloist Carol Sumner. Would have to go through my book collection to see if his dancers noted what he gave to them and others.

    [Balanchine was also a great cook, and would prepare sumptuous Russian dinners for Orthodox Easter, etc. That’s documented in Tanaquil Leclercq’s “The Ballet Cookbook.” (Tanny was his fourth and last wife.)]

    If I recall correctly, for the Esquire article ballerinas in other companies were interviewed, and learned that for “Swan Lake,” ABT’s Cynthia Gregory wore baby powder as Odette in Act I and sprayed on Norell for Odile in Act II. July 26, 2009 at 10:57pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Susan, thank you very much for this fascinating comment! I wish I could find a copy of that article. The bit about Replique would be easy to check, since Carol Sumner is my teacher. Actually, I keep meaning to ask her about Balanchine and perfume, but other more pressing matters (like those pirouette en dedans) get in a way. 🙂

    The Ballet Cookbook is fascinating, and I love how Tannaquil Leclercq’s vibrant personality comes through. Thank you again for this interesting comment. July 27, 2009 at 8:43am Reply

  • Agnes: I once romanticized the whole notion of ballet when I was a child. My parents told me they could not afford ballet lessons, though my neighbors daughter, a professional dancer gave lessons in her home. It wasn’t until many years later when I met he daughter of a very famous ballerina at one of my poetry seminars, that I learned of her famous mother and all sorts of fantasies ran through my head along with my notion of how she must have so many memories of her mother around her house. It wasn’t until later, when I drove her home from a poetry conference and she invited me up to tea that I realized how smitten I was with her mother’s fame. Me, ordinary gal, staried eyed over her mother. her life, was so surprised to find this very independent gal, confident, her own person, without hardly a photo of her famous Mom in the apartment. I knew all the stories about ballerinas and their perfumes, and I know this gal certainly had one of her own, not given to her by her boy friend, husband, or, mentor, but a scent that suited her own thinking. I guess this is the vast difference of generations….. November 21, 2011 at 6:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am sure that there are some many things going on: maybe, she wanted to have her own persona and not be in the shadow of her famous mother, or she took it for granted, or both. I have been dancing since I was six, and the whole romantic notion surrounding ballet is lost on me–it is a lot of pain and hard work. On the other hand, I completely understand its spellbinding allure, its magic. I was ready to make any sacrifices and endure any pain to pursue dance. Above all, I am glad that there are people like you who love ballet. Thank you! November 21, 2011 at 8:56pm Reply

  • Kate: Oh my goodness! This is so lovely! And for me coincidental. I was just in Toronto visiting my daughter who just gave birth to her first child. One day, reminiscing over a cup of tea, I told my daughter (again) about going to the NYC ballet in the early 1960’s with my mom, who is, of course, my daughters grandmother. My mother and I saw ‘Firebird’ with Maria Tallchief and that performance has been a cherished and important memory for me for all these years. Also, while in Toronto I visited the gorgeous Guerlain, Toronto boutique for the first time. Reading your post set my heart beating a bit faster for a moment! April 22, 2013 at 10:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much for sharing your story! I recently watched clips of Tallchief’s dancing, and I can just imagine how beautiful, spellbinding she must have been on stage.

      What a beautiful memory you have! April 22, 2013 at 3:25pm Reply

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