Many ballet companies contribute yearly to the 99-year-old tradition of "The Nutcracker," the most popular of dances and holiday events.
But few companies maintain the kind of tradition the Tulsa Ballet Theatre has sought to preserve. For one, the Oklahoma group seeks to keep the spirit of very first production alive in its repertoire. And for another, the position of artistic director recently was handed from parents to son.
The 35-year-old ballet company returns to perform "The Nutcracker'' at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall as a special event in the Kansas University Concert Series. Last year the Tulsa "Nutcracker'' sold out at KU, but as of Thursday afternoon tickets still were available at the Murphy Hall Box Office.
THE NEW artistic director, Roman Larkin Jasinski, took over in April from his parents, Roman Jasinski and Moscelyne Larkin. But what should have been a time of celebration turned sad for the younger Jasinski.
"Over the course of three years I had assumed more and more responsibility for the ballet," Jasinski said in a recent telephone interview. "So I had been working on a smooth transition, and I had figured out how to work with people. Then the board did a study and after the three years I was voted in, and my parents took on emeritus titles.
"But ever since I came back to Tulsa, my father had been in poor health with his heart, and I had been taking over his responsibilities. Then finally I was voted in the first week in April, and two weeks later my father died.''
IN THE wake of his personal loss, the younger Jasinski takes over a company that was born out of the inspiration of his parents, who had danced with the Ballet Russe in Europe and the United States. Moscelyne Larkin, who is half Native American, and the older Jasinski, who is a Polish-American, then returned to Larkin's home state of Oklahoma to establish a ballet school and civic ballet company that mixed amateurs and professionals. Then in 1981, the company became fully professional.
Roman Larkin Jasinski grew up in the world of ballet in Tulsa, but until his early teens he was more preoccupied by sports.
"I was about 13, when my parents had the civic ballet," Jasinski said. "I really wasn't very interested in dancing, but I had chores and things around the school. I was much more into sports then. But I was there one day when I discovered that there were a lot of women in the class and not a lot of guys. Since I was hanging around, my parents got me to start dancing, and when I tried it I found I could do it.''
WHEN JASINSKI was 16, he moved to New York on a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York City. Although the school is affiliated with the New York City Ballet, he decided to make his mark in dance in 1975 at the American Ballet Theatre.
"I think the American Ballet Theatre is much like the Ballet Russe," Jasinski said. "It has a varied repertory and gave me a chance to travel.''
He also spent six years as a principal with the Cincinnati Ballet and apppeared on television in the Mikhail Baryshnikov production of "The Nutcracker'' in 1981. Then in 1985 he returned to Tulsa.
"It was heady living in New York for 10 years, and when I came back to Tulsa it took a little getting used to," Jasinski said. "In Tulsa, everybody goes home at night, it's not a 24-hour city like New York. It was weird.''
THE 28-member company adheres to the tradition of the Ballet Russe, unlike such companies as the Miami City Ballet or the State Ballet of Missouri, which are heavily influenced by the late choreographer George Balanchine. In the case of "The Nutcracker," Jasinski's parents restaged the work according to the Ballet Russe style, which goes back to the original choreography of Lev Ivanov in the first production in St. Petersburg in Russia. That city was renamed Leningrad after the Russian Revolution, but ironically the name was changed back to St. Petersburg in time for the centennial of "The Nutcracker.''
At the moment, Jasinski said he plans to adhere to the traditions his parents upheld.
"Eventually there will be some changes, but at the moment we have a number of good, workable productions," he said. "There's no reason to make changes, because we've had so much success in the past.''