Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Do an arabesque...now a big plie..."

"...this is the way we do ballet..."

Anyone remember that song from the Kate-sters ballet recital? *L* Well...I came across another reason to remember it...the famous "Flight of Spirits" mural at the Oklahoma State Capital building. I have seen this mural and it is absolutely gorgeous. I also find the ladies in the mural fascinating as well. I found the information and pictures below on various web sites and hope you find it interesting as well. My apologies for the size/quality of the pictures - these are the only ones I could find.



Between 1920 and 1929, five extraordinary women came into the world from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Shawnee, and Osage Nations. They were destined not only to change the face of Oklahoma, but the world of ballet as well.

They are, officially, Oklahoma’s treasures: Yvonne Chouteau, Rosella Hightower, Moscelyne Larkin, Maria Tallchief, and Marjorie Tallchief. These ballerinas all danced during the 1940's with the Ballets Russes and the Grand Ballet de Marquis de Cuevas.

On November 17, 1991, these five friends enjoyed a rare reunion during the dedication of the Flight of Spirit painting of them in the State Capitol rotunda.


Flight of Spirit merges the tragic history of Native Americans with the hope and renewal of modern accomplishments. Behind the illuminated ballerinas is Larson’s depiction of the Trail of Tears. Five geese soar over the displaced Native Americans. The geese symbolize the grace and spirit of the five ballerinas. Mike Larsen's depiction of the ballerinas is strictly representational in that the painted figures have analogous facial features and proportions.

Flight of Spirit is located above the fourth floor rotunda of the Oklahoma State Capitol and can be seen from both the fourth floor and the fifth floor gallery.

First born in 1920, Choctaw Rosella Hightower came from a large family in Durwood, close to Lake Murray. Hightower toured internationally and was engaged in an enormous repertory, including the “Black Swan” pas de deux with Rudolf Nureyev in his 1961 London debut. A year later she started l’Ecole Superieure de Dance in Cannes, which integrated jazz, contemporary dance, and classical ballet. She later served as Director of the Marseilles Opera Ballet and the Ballet of Paris Opera. In 1975, the French government named Miss Hightower a Chevalier de la L├ęgion d’Honneur, the country’s premier honor. Sadly, Ms. Hightower passed away on November 4, 2008.

The next oldest, Moscelyne Larkin was born in Miami, OK, in 1925, to a Shawnee-Peoria Indian and a Russian dancer, who trained her. She joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1948, dancing many leading roles, and later enjoyed being featured as the prima ballerina at Radio City Music Hall.

Betty Marie (later Maria) and Marjorie Tall Chief were Osage sisters born only a year apart. In fact, Maria’s birthdate was only ten days after Larkin’s, on January 24, 1925. Upon high school graduation, Maria became an apprentice with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Later, as she was headed toward becoming the highest paid prima ballerina of the era, the company requested that Maria change her name to Maria Tallchieva. Proud of her Osage heritage, Maria refused, but finally compromised on “Maria Tallchief.” She married famed Russian choreographer George Balanchine, who created her signature roles in “The Firebird,” “Swan Lake,” and “The Nutcracker,” among others. Today she is still popularly known as “Oklahoma’s Firebird.” Even though the marriage to Balanchine ended, their artistic collaboration continued for many years through the New York Ballet.

Maria’s younger sister, Marjorie, born in 1926, became the first American Indian to become premiere danseuse etoile with the Paris Opera. Known for her classic, dignified style, she worked with the American Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, Ruth Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet, and the Harkness Ballet.

The youngest of Oklahoma’s ballerinas, Shawnee Yvonne Chouteau, born 1929, descends from Major Jean Pierre Chouteau, who established the state’s oldest white settlement in what is now Salina, in 1796. Only 14, Chouteau was the youngest American ever accepted by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In 1960 they established the University of Oklahoma’s ballet program, the nation’s first accredited dance degree. They went on to organize the Oklahoma City Civic Ballet in 1963 (now Ballet Oklahoma), which they ran for ten years.

So...this is the way that these marvelous ladies "did ballet". I couldn't find any pictures but there have also been 5 bronze statues, one of each ballerina in costume in a signature role, created for the Vintage Gardens of the Tulsa Historial Society. These statues are called "The Five Moons". There was also a ballet created especially to honor them titled "The Four Moons". It contains 4 solo dance parts to honor the heritage of the ballerinas - since Maria and Marjorie Tallchief are both Osage, their heritage shares one solo dance part, hence the 4 instead of 5.

One day I hope to be able to see the sculptures in Tulsa. I also hope you enjoyed this little bit of Oklahoma history.

3 comments:

Carolyn (Harbor Hon) said...

Wow! This was really fascinating and you know I had to find out more. Sending you and email about it. Thanks for sharing this great post! xxoo

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TuesdaysChild said...

Now that I'm on the right post...I can't believe I'd almost forgotten about that song, but now it's totally stuck in my head! And I was just glancing over my Nina Ballerina pics the other day to show BJ! Now I have a little bit of OK history to go along with my wobbling MD steps!