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DANCEWATCHING

Proteges And Prodigals: The Tulsa Ballet Legacy

February 16, 1986|BARRY LAINE

"All their daddies do is cut grass and watch television," observed Roman L. Jasinski at 13, checking out the neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla. Announcing to his parents an intention to follow in their footsteps as ballet dancers, the earnest teen-ager--active in baseball and pursuing an otherwise normal childhood--found himself drawn to the physical challenge of dance and the appealing cosmopolitan life style of his parents' careers.

The parents, Roman Jasinski and Moscelyne Larkin, had achieved international renown as leading dancers with the legendary Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the 1940s--he a Polish-born discovery of choreographer Bronislava Nijinska, she a half-Russian, half-American Indian protege of prima ballerina Alexandra Danilova.

Retiring from performance in the 1950s, they settled in her native Oklahoma to raise a son and found a ballet school. Thirty years later, that school has blossomed into Tulsa Ballet Theatre, a 29-dancer company that will appear Thursday at Mandeville Center Auditorium, UC San Diego, Saturday at El Camino College in Torrance and next Sunday afternoon at the Wadsworth Theater in Westwood.

If the ballet world does not quite suggest the financial and social intrigue of "Dynasty," the profession is frequently a family affair. The great 19th-Century Romantic ballerina Marie Taglioni learned her technique from her danseur father Filippo. A generation later, Russian Imperial Ballet master Marius Petita made his daughter Maria a ballerina at St. Petersburg's Maryinsky Theater.

More recently, American Ballet Theatre's Leslie Browne and Ethan and Gabrielle Brown are children of former Ballet Theatre couple Kelly and Isabelle Brown.

And ballet and Broadway performer Christopher d'Amboise has shared the stage at New York City Ballet with his now-retired father, Jacques.

The younger Jasinski, a third-generation dancer, now stars at Tulsa Ballet along with his company-trained wife, Kimberley Smiley. The pair shine in some of the same roles that the older Jasinski and Larkin made famous.

"My parents never pushed me," insists the younger Jasinski, who uses his middle initial (L for Larkin) to distinguish himself from his father.

"But they did give me a very strong background in the arts." Young Roman painted, sculpted, played piano and cello, and traveled extensively; every summer, his family motored about the country visiting colleagues.

"All my parents' friends were these great ballet people," he says.

So the Jasinskis barbecued and fished with the likes of George Balanchine, who, when young Jasinski was 9, noted the boy's promising physique and queried (according to Larkin), "Why don't you give Roman to me?"

"I think the dancer's life is one of the richest in the world," says Moscelyne Larkin, "but we never made Roman dance or told him he was going to be a dancer."

Larkin was the daughter of a Russian vaudeville dancer, Eva Matlagova, who met her husband, a Shawnee-Peoria Indian, while traveling through Oklahoma. It was only after leaving her mother's tutelage for instruction in New York that Larkin discovered her calling in ballet.

In contrast, the Polish Jasinski was an architect's son. At the age of 9 he, too, was encouraged--by a Warsaw ballerina.

"My father was not so sure he wanted me to do this, but nobody would change my mind," Jasinski says. A soccer player as a child, he originally suggested dance as a complement to his son's passion for sports in Tulsa.

" 'If you want to be the best,' I told him, 'it's good to have the ballet.' But I left it to his decision."

Jasinski and Larkin have favored a mixed repertoire of classics, Ballet Russe revivals, Balanchine ballets and a bit of contemporary creation for the Tulsa company.

Much of the work has a dramatic focus, and "from the little ones on," Jasinski explains, "we teach them expression. I don't like them coming on stage like dolls. They need to feel the movement."

As company ballet master, the younger Jasinski has added "a little more up-to-date organization" to Tulsa Ballet practice, but says, "I do parallel what my parents believe in."

His own performances repeat many of his father's roles.

When the dancer returned to Tulsa last year after several-year stints with Ballet Theatre and Cincinnati/New Orleans Ballet, he assumed the title role in a revival of David Lichine's "The Prodigal Son."

He even donned his father's original costumes for the part (as he does for the Drummer Boy in Lichine's "Graduation Ball") and danced other Jasinski-identified roles in "Swan Lake," Massine's "Gaite Parisienne," Lifar's "Icare" and Nijinsky's "L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune."

"Swan Lake" Act 2 and "Gaite Parisienne" are set for performances in Southern California, along with Arthur Mitchell's "Rhythmetron: Ritual of the Winds" and "The Greatest: The First Kiss."

Jasinski is scheduled to dance the Massine ballet, and his wife, Smiley, alternates in that work and "Swan Lake," echoing two of her mother-in-law's triumphs.

The younger Jasinski possesses his father's well-developed upper body, but has also inherited his mother's strong legs.

"Physically, he is really built like me," says the elder dancer, "but maybe stronger. He can lift the girls higher."

Jasinski Sr. is 78; Larkin is 61. At 32, the younger Jasinski--who once mopped studio floors--is being groomed for company leadership. He acknowledges that this favored position makes him liable to charges of nepotism and resentment from other dancers.

But he counters: "If you can cut the mustard, what can people say? I definitely think Kim and I have proven ourselves.

"I would like eventually to become artistic director," he admits, "but that is a board decision. I can promise you, however, that it would be the easiest of transitions."

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