Ballet performance helps tell the story of the Osage Nation

photo by Bill Riley

Story and images provided by Stillwater Public Library

The Stillwater Public Library will present “Wahzhazhe- an Osage Ballet” at the Stillwater Community Center on Thursday, April 5, at 7 p.m. The performance tells the story of the Osage through dance segments by the Osage student ballet and commentary from director Randy Tinker Smith.

Osage music inspired Tinker Smith to create the ballet.

“One day, Lou Brock, head researcher at the Osage Museum, was putting together a compilation of songs for an exhibit at the Arkansas History Museum,” said Tinker Smith. “He had written the songs and was playing them on the piano. When I heard them I knew they would make a great ballet.”

Having Osage create the ballet was paramount to Tinker Smith.

“The history of the Osage is mostly written by non-Osage,” said Tinker Smith. “This is an Osage story told by the Osage. I met with about 50 Osage elders over the course of a year to get their stories. Osage members Jenna Smith created the choreography; Alexandria Ponca Stock painted the backdrops; and Wendy Ponca and Terry Wann designed the costumes.”

The professional version of the ballet first opened in 2012, playing in Tulsa and Bartlesville. Since then, it has toured across the country including a 2013 performance at the Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. and a 2015 performance at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia for Pope Francis.

The Thursday performance will include the professional company in video format as a backdrop, while students ages 8-18 will dance two segments of the ballet including an opening prayer and a board school scene. Pre-professional dancers will portray “The Journey,” a segment showing the Osage removal from Arkansas and Missouri to Kansas, then Oklahoma.

“Wahzhazhe- an Osage Ballet” is free and open to the public. It is the second to last program in the library’s reading series “One Book, One Community: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI.”

The final program, “An Evening with Author David Grann” presented by the Osage Nation Foundation, will be held on April 12 at 7 p.m. in the Gallagher Iba Arena, with doors opening at 6 p.m.

According to Lynda Reynolds, Stillwater Public Library director, fundraising for the move to the arena in order to seat more participants is now complete.

“Thank you so much to the many generous readers, business and organizations who made the move possible,” said Reynolds. “Without the amazing support of our community, we could not have made this important visit by David Grann available for the many people who want to attend.”

The move to the arena is made possible by OSU Office of the President, Visit Stillwater, OSU College of Arts and Sciences, Shake, Rattle & Roll, OSU Division of Institutional Diversity, OSU Library, OSU Center for Oklahoma Studies, OSU American Indian Studies, Exchange Bank, Stillwater Frontier Rotary, Central Drug, OState.tv and readers throughout the community.

Visit http://library.stillwater.org/flowermoon.php for details about the author event.

The series is funded in part by Oklahoma Humanities, National Endowment for the Humanities, Osage Nation Foundation, Friends of Stillwater Public Library, Stillwater Public Library Trust, and OSU Library. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed during the series do not necessarily represent those of the sponsors.