writers on dancing


Proud Plumage

Grand Opening
National Museum of the American Indian
Washington, DC, USA
Tuesday, September 21, 2004

By George Jackson
copyright © 2004 by George Jackson
published September 27, 2004

With much fanfare and after years of planning, the American Indian museum has opened on the Mall. As a neighbor in DC's southwest quadrant, I've seen the building gradually grow. Only in the last couple of days has it seemed finished. In daylight it looks squash yellow, sandstone rough and scalloped. Spotlit on the outside and with its inner illumination fully ablaze tonight, it appeared palefaced, smoother surfaced and, from the Capitol side, like a spaceship in port. Its inaugural festivities spilled out into the surrounding streets and parkland. Tents had been set up as marketplaces for tribal goods, and there was an open stage flanked by huge screens. Great crowds had been expected. They materialized, and initially the museum remained open around the clock. At 9 PM on day 1, the line to get in was over a thousand people long. l walked around the building, peered into the ground floor which is very windowed on the Mall side, strolled through the market tents (more the fairground sort than the teepee type) and watched a bit of what was happening on the screens and stage. On this cursory round, people's clothing caught my eye first. So many, both participants in scheduled events and observers, had dressed to the hilt in American Indian finery. Then there were the faces, the body types and walking styles. It was a wonderful living tapestry.

Dance was a dominant part of the opening days' programs, and it came from the entire Western hemisphere as well as the Pacific. I only caught short bits on the big screens. There was supposed to be an event with the USA's Indian ballerinas—Rosella Hightower, Maria and Marjorie Tallchief, Yvonne Chouteau and Moscelyne Larkin—plus that fine balletic partner Jock Soto, but I wasn't able to find out where and when. So, I fantasized with my memories of them. Rosella Hightower returning home from France to Ballet Theatre to dance Balanchine's "Theme and Variations" in the plastique style she had acquired abroad. Maria Tallchief, dazzling as Balanchine's Firebird. Marjorie Tallchief, chic and frisky in Skibine's "Idylle."Yvonne Chouteau, the expectant mother, still daring to do a Black Swan pas de deux in the last days of the American Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Moscelyn Larkin, sensual in Ballet Russe character roles. Jock Soto, who—at New York City Ballet—danced also with his eyes. The memories then became a jumbled pas de six—which told me it was high time to give up and go home! I didn't keep my resolve to set the alarm for 3 AM and try then to get in.

Originally published:
Volume 2, No. 36
September 20, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by George Jackson


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