When spring 2013 starts, visitors at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. will be treated to a live performance of the Osage tribe’s story told through song and dance – with the help of ballet slippers.
The Wahzhazhe: An Osage Ballet production will hit the NMAI theater stage for matinee performances scheduled March 20-23 at the museum located on the National Mall. Those daily performances start at 3 p.m.
The NMAI ballet performances come seven months after the ballet debuted on Tulsa and Bartlesville theater stages. Ballet director Randy Tinker Smith said the NMAI performance opportunity would expose the Osage’s story to people from countless backgrounds who never heard it before.
The scheduled performances come at the same time Washington kicks off its National Cherry Blossom Festival held yearly to celebrate spring’s start and commemorate the 1912 occasion when Japan gave over 3,000 cherry trees to the United States as a friendship gift.
“Last year during that week, they had 60,000 visitors so this is a great opportunity to showcase the Osage Tribe on a world level,” Smith said.
NMAI spokeswoman Leonda Levchuk said the museum “is committed to giving tribes a national venue for performances, cultural exchanges and other public programming” with the Wahzhazheballet added to the list of tribes represented through live museum performances. “Museums are sometimes perceived as places to preserve history but we are a living museum and have a very full schedule each year to present presentations that show our 1.4 million visitors that Native Americans are varied and still here,” Levchuk said.
Fundraising efforts are underway to raise money for the Washington trip to transport the ballet performers, production staff and the set to NMAI.
Smith said the Osage Tribal Museum is sponsoring three video showings of the ballet at Circle Cinema, 10 S. Lewis Ave. in Tulsa, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. A Nov. 30 showing is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the Dec. 1 showing will be at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Smith said DVD and CD copies of the ballet will also be available for sale during the Circle Cinema performances.
Smith is hopeful the performances will open doors to sharing the Osage with other people. She recalls being approached by people during the summer performances. “When people were sitting in the audiences – tribal and non-tribal – so many came up and said, ‘I never knew that about the Osages.’ It really reaches out to everyone.”
It took two years to create the ballet starting with research to tell the Osage story as accurate as possible, Smith said. She estimates that she spent more than 200 hours with Osage elders including the late Harry Red Eagle Jr., Louis Burns and Leonard Maker.
In the end, the inaugural summer ballet production turned into a learning tool for those who worked on the project handling responsibilities including set and costume design, choreography, and promoting the event.