Photo caption: Ballet dancers of Dance Maker Academy stand with Randy Tinker Smith (left), and Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear and Jenna LaViolette (right). CODY HAMMER/Osage News
The Wahzhazhe ballet will perform at The Mansion Theater in Branson, Mo., Aug. 6-7. Tickets are currently on sale at www.themansiontheater.com or www.osageballet.com.
In some instances, a well-kept secret such as a favorite business or a historic site, which is known only to the local populace, might be considered a good thing. It solely belongs to its community. But in the case of Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet, established in Pawhuska a decade ago, everyone needs to know about it. It is a unique experience of art, education and preservation of history. The Osage Nation’s history.
Osage Ballet choreographer, Jenna LaViolette, invited Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear to say a few words to the children that have been cast in this years’ ballet. He said, “The dance education you are receiving is a great opportunity. Your minds are going to be better because you are learning to appreciate music, you are memorizing choreography, and you are strengthening your bodies which will lead to a healthier life. You are talented but you need a teacher to guide and encourage you to grow. You would miss that if you didn’t have it because it is difficult to motivate yourself. You have done a wonderful job. I look forward to seeing you dance and we continue to support you.”
LaViolette stated, “Chief StandingBear has great vision for our Osage children and has gone out of his way to support the arts for them and all Osages. He was a member of the first committee formed to support the ballet in 2011 and was on the original committee involved in making the decision to open Dance Maker Academy in 2014. He understands the importance of the arts for our children and feels that artists are fundamental to our cultural heritage and their work is often a crucial part of community life.”
When Standing Bear spoke to the children of the Wahzhazhe cast he said, “It takes a lot of courage to perform on stage like you have done. You have prepared for this and we support you!”
In an interview with Randy Tinker-Smith (Osage/Cherokee), the director of Wahzhazhe ballet, she talked about the legacy of ballet in the Osage culture. It is a surprise to some that in the small, rural community of Pawhuska, a classical ballet was created. Tinker-Smith did her research so the information about the Osages’ history was accurate. She was respectful to the Osages, in that way, as well as consulting with tribal Elders about what could be used. She too was reverent to the memories of Osage ballerinas, Maria and Marjorie Tallchief, who left the Osages with this rich artistic gift.
Wahzhazhe ballet is an outreach that presents the Nation’s history from pre-contact to the present day. Choreographed by LaViolette, the original music was written by composers Lou Brock and Dr. Joseph Rivers, and arranged by Dr. Rivers. Alexandra Ponca Stock designed and painted the backdrops and Osage fine artists Wendy Ponca and the late Terry Wann designed the dancers’ apparel. After the interview, Tinker-Smith showed off the outfits on clothing racks in the lobby. Through the dances, music and clothes, the audience gets a real sense of emotions the Osage people experienced.
Osage dance clothing is colorful and unique to the individual. These types of outfits were on one end of the clothes rack. On the opposite end were jackets made of heavy material, brown and plain. Dresses for the girls were white and sterile. It was heartbreaking to realize that small children were forced to leave the world of their people for a new, foreign life. But that is what art can reveal. Wahzhazhe ballet is beautiful, real and moving.
The company has traveled to a variety of cities to perform, including the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. In 2015, they were the only Native American performance on the day stage at the Festival of Families for the Papal visit. Attendance at that festival was half a million people and the Pope was present and waved to them.
The ballet has been sponsored by the Osage Nation Foundation and Osage Casinos for every performance since 2012. “We are thankful for the support of these Osage organizations and this year the Osage Foundation has donated funds for us to do a professional video of the ballet,” said Tinker Smith.
To learn more about Wahzhazhe ballet and the upcoming performances in August, find Osage Ballet on Facebook or check out their websites, www.osageballet.com or www.dancemaker.net. To learn more about The Mansion Theater or to request tickets, please visit their website at www.themansiontheater.com.