By DAVID JONES
Editor at Large
Oklahoma ballerina Moscelyne Larkin died April 26 at the age of 87, but oh, what a legacy she left behind.
Without her and her Tulsa Ballet co-founder and husband Roman Jasinski, there would be no Tulsa Ballet. In recent years, under their successor Marcello Angelini, Tulsa Ballet has taken Tulsa to the world.
I knew Moscelyne, known to her friends as “Moussia,” roughly 60 years. We were co-godparents, and she always called me her “god-husband.”
Ballet in Tulsa resulted from a combination of coincidences. It all began when Moussia’s Russian mother, Eva Matlagova, found herself dancing in a road show playing the American Midwest. In an Oklahoma audience one night was Ruben Larkin, a young man of mixed Welsh and Shawnee-Peoria Native American descent. Larkin was enchanted by the vivacious Russian girl on the stage. As Moussia told me years later, her smitten dad followed her mother from town to town. Eventually they met and married. From that union came Lloyd, who became a lawyer, and Moussia, who her mother trained to become a first-rate ballerina.
Shortly after they moved from Miami, Okla. to Tulsa, the marriage fell apart and Eva, known to generations of students as “Miss Eva,” started a ballet school. It was there that Moussia got the training that would eventually land her, at the age of 15, with the prestigious Ballet Russe.
With World War II eliminating the arts in many parts of the world, Moussia found herself touring in South America. Also in the company was a handsome Polish dancer almost twice her age, named Roman Jasinski. To hear Moussia tell it, “Jasha” (as he was known) never had a chance.
“If he had a class I would be in that class. If he was eating in a restaurant I would be in that restaurant.” It didn’t take him long to notice the sparkling, beautiful Oklahoman. They were married in Buenos Aires while she was still a teenager.
The life of a dancer is a risky one and Moussia found herself as principal dancer at Radio City Music Hall. The fact she had to dance four or five times a day between movies didn’t make things easier. “I still got nervous before every performance,” she told me.
By the 1950s the time had come to make a decision. Jasha was getting old for a dancer and a career in teaching seemed plausible. They decided to move to Tulsa and join Miss Eva’s school.
The first time I ever saw them dance was during one of Miss Eva’s annual recitals at the old Tulsa Central High School. My sister was a student of Miss Eva’s so attendance at the dance recital was mandatory. It was worth missing a night of whatever it was I was missing. I’d never seen such dancing. Moussia and Jasha were to provide dancing of a high order for decades to come.
Out of what became the Ranch Acres School of Ballet was sprung Tulsa Civic Ballet. Many cities have a civic ballet, but Tulsa had Jasha and Jasha had a friend named George Balanchine, arguably the finest of all American choreographers. When Tulsa Civic Ballet began, Balanchine helped Jasha bring major stars to Tulsa.
Moussia was proud of her Native American heritage, and in 1957 she put together the first of two “Oklahoma Indian Ballerina Festivals.” These two festivals, held a decade apart, celebrated the careers of five Native American Caucasian girls with strong Oklahoma ties, all born in the 1920s, who had by then become internationally known ballerinas. In addition to Miss Larkin, they were Rosella Hightower, Yvonne Chouteau, and Sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief.
A few years after Jasha’s passing, Artistic Director Marcello Angelini took the company’s helm, and Tulsa Ballet has gone from one of the finest of civic ballets to a company that has won praise by top critics in the United States and Europe.
Angelini worked closely with Larkin to see that the company’s classical background was carefully preserved. The result, to quote one European critic, is that Tulsa Ballet has become “one of the best in the world.”
Moussia and Jasha got the ball rolling, using the materials they had in hand. As the dancers improved and matured, the repertoire became more challenging.
Under Angelini, American premieres of major works are a common occurrence; the company boasts dancers from more than a dozen countries; and there are a thousand applicants for a handful of annual positions.
I remember Moussia as a gorgeous dynamo who, even as the years advanced, kept herself dancing trim. I remember watching her, age 75 or so, demonstrate to a student how to bend over from a standing position so the head touches the knees. She was a marvel.
Now her physical presence is gone, but the tiny ball she started rolling has become a massive boulder supported by an energetic artistic director, a devoted board of directors, and dancers who consider it an honor to dance in Tulsa.
Moscelyne Larkin Jasinski‘s influence remains – and will continue to remain – alive and vibrant.