Tulsans Bring Ballet Legend to Life in New Book

Contributing Writer

TWO PORTRAITS: Cheryl Forrest, left, and Georgia Snoke pose in front of a portrait of ballet great Roman Jasinski. Under the Jasinski picture is their own portrait, the book “Roman Jasinski: A Gypsy Prince from the Ballet Russe,??? which has taken a quarter-century from the first research to publication. The book was introduced at a gala book-signing Nov. 20 at Saks Fifth Avenue in Utica Square. Additional signings will be held at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Tulsa Historical Society and 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 13 at Steve’s Sundries.

DAVID JONES for GTR Newspapers

With the aid of a gala book signing at Saks Fifth Avenue Nov. 20 in Utica Square, a project a quarter century in the making was introduced and a Tulsa icon received homage.

“Roman Jasinski: A Gypsy Prince from the Ballet Russe” was the subject of a book signing at the fabled fashion outlet.

“We were tickled to be doing this,” says Saks Fifth Avenue manager Vancie Frazee. “We’re delighted to have used our store as a venue for the book signing. Saks feels it is very important to give back to the city, which is why we have an annual event for Tulsa Opera. It is incredible that a city the size of Tulsa has, among other things, an accomplished ballet, a renowned opera and two museums of unbelievable quality.”

The book marks the end of a long journey for Tulsan Cheryl Forrest. Twenty-five years ago she began researching the life of Roman Jasinski, the man who, along with his celebrated wife Moscelyne Larkin, founded what is now Tulsa Ballet. The small civic ballet company that flourished under the Jasinskis and their successors has since become a major force in American and European dance circles.

It wasn’t that Jasinski lacked would-be biographers; a number of dance writers had approached him about doing his story but he wanted someone he could trust.

Forrest, who had danced under Jasinski’s direction with Tulsa Civic Ballet, decided early on that she wanted to do a biography of the man she so admired.

“I started this biography of Jasha (as Jasinski was known) when I was in New York City in 1983,” recalls Forrest. “I did research in the City and then, when I returned to Tulsa, began personal interviews with him.

“We explored his life stories for three years. I taped the conversations and then began the work of transcribing them. When I had finished I had over 500 pages of typed transcripts.”

After Jasinski’s death in 1991, Forrest focused on raising her family. When time became available, she realized the project had become too unwieldy for her alone so she asked another Jasinski-trained dancer, Georgia Snoke, to help her. They share co-author credit for the book.

They found the task not unlike trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle in a dark room at midnight. “Jasha told wonderful stories,” recalls Snoke, “but after the passage of so many years, the details became hazy. At times he would talk about joining a small company of seven people. Later he would tell the same story but the company size had swelled to a dozen. In a further version the company size would shrink to five.

“Exactly which year a certain event took place was also open to interpretation according to which account you heard. We had a time untangling sequences of events.”

With no publisher backing them and spurred only by the mutual admiration they held for their subject, they traveled to dance archives in England, France and New York City.

When they came home they would periodically sequester themselves in a Tulsa hotel room away from ringing telephones and domestic duties and write the chronology of Jasinski’s life on poster boards.

What a life it was!

When Jasinski was 10 he went to a party in Warsaw, Poland. It was summer and he was barefoot. A professional dancer happened to see the arch of his foot and urged him to audition for the Polish Opera Ballet School. It was a chance glance that ultimately turned Jasinski into a major figure in prestigious ballet companies in Europe, the United States, Australia and South America.

Those glory years did not come easily. In his earlier career his pay was sometimes one meal a day.

He was dancing in New York City during the early days of World War II when a teenaged dancer from Oklahoma joined the Ballet Russe troupe. As Moscelyne Larkin later told the story, poor Jasha never had a chance; she went to all his classes, ate in all the restaurants he frequented, and generally made it impossible for him to ignore her. To make the story short they married, eventually landed in Tulsa and began a little dance company that now is known far beyond the boundaries of Oklahoma.

“Almost all the book,” says Forrest, “deals with Jasha’s life before he came to Tulsa. He only arrives here in the last chapter. But his is the ultimate immigrant story. He thrived here, loved his new home, and said the happiest day in his life was the day he became an American citizen.”

The book was edited and designed by Carol Haralson of Sedona, Ariz., whom many Tulsans know for her similar work on the Gilcrease (Museum) Quarterly. Other signings will be held at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Tulsa Historical Society and 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 13 at Steve’s Sundries.

All proceeds from sales of the book will go to Tulsa Ballet’s Jasinski Endowment for the Preservation of the Classical Repertoire.

“Roman Jasinski: A Gypsy Prince from the Ballet Russe,” published by Tulsa Ballet, $24.95.

Updated 11-25-2008

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