'Wahzhazhe: An Osage Ballet' to have world premiere in Tulsa on Friday
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2012
7/29/12 at 5:48 AM
In the three years that Randy Tinker Smith has been working to bring her idea of a ballet about the Osage Nation to the stage, she kept hearing the same question, over and over.
"People would ask me, 'Why a ballet?' " Smith said, laughing. "Of course, the only people who never asked me that question were the Osage.
"It's not just because dance has always been a part of our culture," she said. "Two of the greatest American ballerinas - Maria and Marjorie Tallchief - were Osage."
The ballet, which will have its world premiere in Tulsa this coming weekend, is titled "Wahzhazhe: An Osage Ballet." "Wahzhazhe" is the Osage word for the Osage people, and the two-act, evening-length ballet traces the history of the Osage Nation from early days to modern times.
The performances will feature a mixture of professional and student dancers. The professional dancers were selected from audition videos and come from companies in Georgia, Idaho, California. Young dancers were chosen from Tulsa's Jasinski Academy and dance schools in Tahlequah and Bartlesville.
Roman Jasinski, former artistic director of Tulsa Ballet, is the ballet's artistic adviser. Smith said she had originally approached Jasinski about choreographing the ballet, but various circumstances prevented that.
Smith's daughter, Jenna, a recent graduate of the Oral Roberts University dance program, choreographed the work to a score by Lou W. Brock and Joseph Rivers.
"My graduate project at ORU was a section of this ballet," Jenna Smith said. "Most of the choreography I've done has been short pieces. I've never tried to do something of this size. And I'm also one of the dancers, so there's a lot of stress.
"Roman has been a tremendous help," she said. "He has great advice about ways to make the choreography better. And when you're trying to perform and choreograph, it's great to have someone who is seeing things from the outside."
The ballet is made up of 10 scenes and begins with several scenes of life, before contact with Europeans, that range from morning prayers to a wedding. It continues with the tribe's removal to what is now Oklahoma, from the discovery of oil on Osage land through the "Reign of Terror," from a celebration of the Osage tradition as warriors to the present when "We Walk in Two Worlds."
The costumes were designed by Wendy Ponca and Terry Wann and constructed with the help of volunteers. Sets were designed by Alexandra Ponca Stock.
Brock's original music was the spark of inspiration for what would become "Wahzhazhe: An Osage Ballet."
"I had been approached by a curator from the Historic Arkansas Museum about providing some background music for the opening of an exhibit," said Brock, a senior researcher at the Osage Tribal Museum. "From what I had learned about the history of the tribe, I thought, why not try to tell the story of the Osage through music?"
Brock composed a suite of eight pieces that he titled "The Journey," which he performed at the exhibit's opening in 2009.
"Randy Smith was one of the people there, and she came up to me with the idea of using these songs of mine as the basis of a ballet," Brock said.
Rivers, a composer and professor of music and film studies at the University of Tulsa, was brought in to arrange and orchestrate Brock's music.
"Once Lou and I met and listened to his work," Rivers said, "we had a lot of discussions about what pieces to use, and what sections might need newly composed music. In the end, I would say the score is about evenly divided between Lou's original music and music I wrote."
The score incorporates a number of musical styles, but Osage drums and dance bells also appear in the score, and three traditional Osage songs are used at key points in the ballet.
Rivers also created the recording that will be used to accompany the performance, combining computer-generated orchestral tracks with violin and cello parts performed by Tulsa musicians Ronnamarie Jensen and Diane Bucchianeri.
The ballet will premiere Friday in Tulsa and will be performed the following week in Bartlesville.
"We have an invitation to bring the ballet to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, which I hope we will be able to do next summer," Smith said.
"My original thought was just to make a video of the ballet that maybe could be shown on educational television stations," she said. "But this thing has really taken on a life of its own."
‘WAHZHAZHE: AN OSAGE BALLET’
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Aug.
Where: Friday-Saturday at Holland Hall,
5666 E. 81st St.; Aug. 10-11 at Bartlesville
Community Center, 300 S.E.
Tickets: $5-$10. 918-596-7111,
tulsaworld.com/mytix or 918-336-2787,
Original Print Headline: Ballet about Osage Nation sets world premiere
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Jenna Smith is the choreographer of the Osage ballet "Wahzhazhe" for the dancers of the Art of Motion Dance Studio in Bartlesville. The ballet will debut Friday in Tulsa. KT KING/Tulsa World