By Glenda Rice Collins, Arts Columnist
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. USA — “I love making beautiful things,” says Osage Ballet director Randy Tinker Smith, “Whether in music or ballet, …getting everybody to work together to produce a beautiful piece of art…That’s our goal, that we always represent our tribe well, …and to keep getting our story out.”
When Randy Tinker Smith scheduled the first performances of Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet to debut in Tulsa and Bartlesville in 2012, she had concerns about audience development.
But from the first concert, with about 150 in the Tulsa Holland Hall audience, the numbers quickly grew to 1300 for the Bartlesville Community Center event that season, –and the third performance, by invitation in 2013, at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. drew such capacity crowds that the overflow had to be turned away.
Within four years of those tentative Oklahoma debuts, the Pawhuska-based Osage Ballet was performing for a Logan Square audience that included Pope Francis, and an estimated crowd of some half a million people attending the 2015 Festival of Families in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
NOW: SANTA FE Saturday Scene – The Lensic
The Osage Ballet next visits Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two performances at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, Saturday (August 6), featuring Miki Kawamura, principal dancer, with permission of the Oklahoma City Ballet. Details available at: http://www.lensic.org.
A Mother and Daughter Success Story
An “unintended result” during this phenomenal progress was the opening of a Pawhuska ballet school in 2014, said Randy during a recent telephone interview. “Jenna (Randy’s daughter) felt called to do this,” having earned her degree in dance performance in 2011 at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa.
“The first dance recitals in May of 2015 drew 700 to attend in Pawhuska, a town of 4000. Enrollment of 45 students that year increased to 75 involved in the 2016 recital. We went from one studio to three, and now employ two more teachers. Jenna teaches full- time.”
Said choreographer Jenna Smith, “Teaching ballet as an art form in Osage County is my way of continuing the legacy begun by the late, (New York City Ballet) ballerina Maria Tallchief and her sister, Marjorie Tallchief, (of Paris Opera Ballet fame),” both Osage Oklahomans. Randy Tinker Smith and her daughter, Jenna, are both members of the Osage Nation.
“I think it was meant to be,” says her Mom. “There are different challenges in (Indian) reservations. I always intended to mentor. We’ve taken it to the next level with the ballet school.”
Now Santa Fe bound, ballet director Smith says, “There are so many artists there. I think they will appreciate the 50 people in our cast and crew…We rehearse the little kids for two weeks solid, and the pros come in for a week… We’re really honored that people want to see (the ballet) again and we get to be part of the storytelling…I spend about 90 percent of my time fundraising, as it costs $50,000 per week to perform.”
“I didn’t know who would want to see the ballet, at first…but there were so many who did not know the story of the Osage people,” Smith reminisced. “My original goal was to get a video of the production and take it to kids to inspire them with their own artistic endeavors…whatever they’re good at (be it) costumes, dance, technical production, sets…so many facets they could work in. I would say …Hey, what are you good at? You can do this!”
The Journey Inspires
“I spent a year talking with Osage elders and put the storyline together. Jenna, (a classically-trained dancer) could picture the choreography. I wanted to do something in the arts. I was working in the Osage Tribal Museum (with) 4000 photos, mostly from the 1900’s.
“A fellow artist was writing songs called “The Journey” about the Osages being taken from Kansas to Oklahoma. When I heard these songs, I thought ‘that would make a great ballet.’ That’s where it all started.”
Osage composer Lou Brock (Osage/Omaha) provided much of the inspiration in that music. Later assisted by composer Joseph Rivers, PhD, distinguished professor at The University of Tulsa, additional music was composed and orchestrated by Dr. Rivers.
Roman Larkin Jasinski, son of American Indian ballerina Moscelyne Larkin Jasinski (1925-2012), part Shawnee/Peoria, and famed Polish premier danseur Roman Jasinski (1907-1991), serves as artistic advisor for Osage Ballet. His parents co-founded Tulsa Ballet in the 1950’s.
Oklahoma has a rich heritage of Ballets Russes connections and five globally famous American Indian ballerinas, historically.
Wahzhazhe Director Randy Tinker Smith
No stranger to the stage, Randy and her husband, another Randy, spent some ten years on the road as inspired musicians. “We played on a hotel circuit around the country — top 40 music, six nights a week I play keyboard, he plays bass or guitar in a two- to seven-piece band.
“I love making beautiful things,” she says pensively. “Whether in music or ballet, …getting everybody to work together to produce a beautiful piece of art…That’s our goal, that we always represent our tribe well, …and to keep getting our story out.”
To read more about Osage Ballet history, please Google ‘Wahzhazhe’ Osage Ballet debuts in Bartlesville this weekend, (Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, August 10, 2012) and visit glendaricecollins.com and osage ballet.com for updates.
Banner photo by Jennie Bettinger. Historic Moscelyne Larkin photo by Maurice Seymour. Wahzhazhe, An Osage Ballet photos provided courtesy of Osage Ballet.
# # # # # # #Glenda Rice Collins 8-4-16 All rights reserved.