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Historical Society Unveils Native American Ballerina Sculptures


BALLET BRONZE: Sculptor Gary Henson poses next to a bronze likeness of Rosella Hightower, one of five Native American ballerinas commemorated at the unveiling of “The Five Moons??? at the Tulsa Historical Society. Hightower, a member of the Choctaw Tribe from Ardmore, Okla., was named director of the famed Paris Opera Ballet in 1980. She is also noted for founding Ecole Superieure de Danse, a distinguished French dance academy.


Courtesy Tulsa Historical Society


Five larger-than-life bronze statues depicting Oklahoma’s five internationally acclaimed Native American ballerinas were unveiled recently the Tulsa Historical Society.

Entitled “The Five Moons,” the sculptures portray Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin, Maria Tallchief, Marjorie Tallchief and Yvonne Chouteau, who was able to attend the unveiling. The project’s name is taken from the 1967 ballet “The Four Moons,” a production choreographed specifically for the ballerinas.

“The Five Moons” is a collaborative project between the Tulsa Historical Society and the Tulsa Ballet. Funding for the statues was made possible through generous donations from Charles and Peggy Stephenson and the Barnett Family Foundation.

The five sculptures were created by Gary Henson, a northeastern Oklahoma artist and son of Native American artist Inez Running Rabbit. Henson also served as the point-up artist for “The Great Spirit” sculpture in Woodward Park on the southeast corner of Peoria Avenue and 21st Street in Tulsa.

“The Five Moons” is based on designs by the late sculptor Monte England. During the project’s design process, each ballerina submitted a photo illustrating the ballet, position and costume she preferred for the sculpture. “The Five Moons” has taken over a decade to design and complete.

When the five Native American dancers began their careers in the early 1940s, Europeans dominated ballet. However, their talents, dedication and determination took the women to the top of the international field.

Larkin, born of Shawnee-Peoria and Russian descent in Miami, Okla., began her career as a member of the Original Ballet Russe. She co-founded the Tulsa Ballet in 1956 with her late husband Roman Jasinski and remains the company’s artistic director emerita. Larkin has been instrumental in developing dance programs in Tulsa Public Schools.

Maria Tallchief, known as “America’s Prima Ballerina,” was also dubbed “Woman of the Year” by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. She founded the Chicago City Ballet in 1981. Her sister Marjorie, the first American to become Premiere Danseuse Etoile of the Paris Opera, founded the Dallas Ballet. Both were born in Fairfax, Okla. and are of Osage descent.

At 14, Chouteau, who is of Cherokee descent, became the youngest American to become a member of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Together with husband Miguel Terekhov she later established the first fully accredited U.S. dance department at the University of Oklahoma. Chouteau was born in Vinita, Okla.
Hightower, a member of the Choctaw Tribe from Ardmore, Okla., was named director of the famed Paris Opera Ballet in 1980. She is also noted for founding Ecole Superieure de Danse, a distinguished French dance academy.

Updated 01-08-2008

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