Photos and Article by: Roseanne McKee
On Aug. 2, the evening before departing for Santa Fe for their Aug. 6 performances at the Lensic Performing Arts Center via tour bus, Osage Ballet Director, Randy Tinker Smith, and her lead ballet dancers gathered at Cathy Ross’s home for dinner and a chance to meet some members of the community.
Debbie Reed, Pawhuska City Councilman Steve Holcombe, his wife Susie Holcombe, Osage Tribal Museum Curator Hallie Winter and Emily Haran were among those who attended.
When Director Randy Tinker Smith approached Cathy Ross with the idea of hosting a dinner for the Osage Ballet professional dancers, Ross answered with a resounding, “yes!”
Ross, who owns a bed and breakfast in Pawhuska called The Mabelle, said, “I’m a promoter of the arts and tourism and I entertain a lot here.” Ross is also a member of Preserving Arts in the Osage.
The evening provided an opportunity to hear from the dancers their emotional reactions to being a part of Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet, which tells the story of the Osage people through ballet. “Wahzhazhe” is the pronunciation of the word for the Osage people in their language.
Stage Manager Kayla Banks shared that during a run-through earlier that day, “I was crying today during the scene ‘Walking in Two Worlds,’ where the kids and the professionals dance together. That’s my favorite scene, because it reminds me of my younger self. I think people can relate to it regardless of if you’re Osage. I think people can relate to it looking back at their own heritage.”
Banks, who lives in Denver Colo., is a performing artist trained in ballet, modern dance and stage work. She is dating ballet choreographer Jenna Smith’s cousin and on their first date he mentioned the Osage Ballet. Later, he sent her a YouTube clip of the ballet dancing.
Banks described her reaction: “This is so cool! I’m Native American. I’m Comanche; my family lives down in Lawton, Okla., — that’s where our reservation and National Museum are. I had just learned about Maria Tallchief. You don’t hear about Native American ballerinas because ballet started in Europe. I’m also African American, so what Misty Copeland, an African American ballet dancer, is doing at ABT (American Ballet Theatre) is inspiring and what Maria Tallchief did. You realize that ballet’s not just for one skin color. It’s really universal – it’s everybody’s.
“Once I saw the ballet, the first thing I did was to send the clip to the Native American Cultural Center at Colorado State University and suggested that they place it in their archives and spread the word about the Osage Ballet.”
“Then we went to the family reunion in New Mexico and that’s where I met Randy,” Banks said. After learning of her stage management background, Smith, who needed a stage manager, asked Banks to fill that important position. She accepted and even recruited a friend of hers, Andrew McIntyre, to be on the lighting crew. “He’s already in Santa Fe, waiting for us,” she said.
Regarding her own dance career, Banks said, she is still in training, but she hopes to dance in the Osage Ballet one day herself.
Referring to Osage Ballet Choreographer Jenna Smith’s Dance Maker Performing Arts Academy in Pawhuska, Banks said, the school’s goal is to raise dancers to perform the ballet.
“I hope this will be a staple piece like the Nutcracker with other artistic pieces to follow,” Banks added.
“There have been so many ballets created but Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet, can be a staple because you bring it to communities that really appreciate it. Knowledge of it will continue to spread throughout the United States and the world. It will have a name for sure.”
Lead dancer Miki Kawamura, originally from Sapporo in the northern region of Japan shared how she became involved in the Osage Ballet. She danced for the Osage Ballet in Santa Fe with permission from the Oklahoma City Ballet.
“My best friend was going to do the ballet, and so I decided to join her for the opportunity to stay in shape over the summer and travel to Santa Fe; but then when it got closer to the time of rehearsal, my best friend decided she couldn’t do it. At that point, I’d already signed the contract….If I say I will do it, I will do it.”
Soon a DVD of the ballet arrived and Kawamura began learning the choreography, but at that point, she still did not fully grasp the emotional impact of her participation in the ballet.
“Then I came here and I met them, and saw how proud they are about the tribe and the ballet. Before I came here I had no idea. The tribe and the city have a lot of feelings toward this ballet. I’m really honored to be here.
“How many Japanese get to do this? I’m sure I’m the only one getting to do Native American ballet, so I’m glad I said yes.
“I’m glad I prepared and learned the ballet before I came. It’s not just a job or a gig. I want to give more….I want to express what it means to them.”
Describing the significance of her participation in the Osage Ballet, she said, “God moves people for His purposes. It shows me He is with me. He shows me why things happen.”
According to Director, Randy Smith, the Santa Fe performances on Aug. 6 at the Lensic PAC went well and were well attended.
Smith said: “We hope this will be the first of many trips to New Mexico and other regions to share Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet with a wider audience.”
To learn of upcoming performances of the Osage Ballet, visit their website at http://www.osageballet,com and visit their Facebook page.
The Osage Ballet operates under Art Maker. Donations may be sent to P. O. Box 1141, Skiatook, OK 74070.