Tahlequah Daily Press

March 31, 2014

Cherokee Immersion students get glimpse of ballet

Special Writer

TAHLEQUAH — A live theater performance often is as exciting for the students watching as it is for the performers , who also happen to be students

For Bretly Crawford, performing as a wolf in a live show for students at the Cherokee Immersion School on Friday morning is just one part of the dream he’s building for himself.

For some of the children, it was the first time they experienced live theater performances of ballet and classical music. These same children read the classic Russian folktale, “Peter and the Wolf” before seeing the performance.

“It’s awesome! They read it in Cherokee then acted it in English,” said Toni Workman, counselor at the Immersion School. “A lot of our kids have never been exposed to ballet or theater, so this is a good experience for them.”

When Teri Rhoades learned her daughter Sinihele would be performing in “Peter and the Wolf” with her dance school, she asked if it would be possible for them to perform at the Immersion school. Her daughter is a former student at the Immersion School.

“I went to the school to see if they’d be willing to host, ‘Peter and the Wolf,’” said Rhoades.

“The Translation Department at the school translated it,” said Rhoades. “And we’re going to take a five-minute version of [Peter and the Wolf] with Immersion kids to the Norman Language Fair, April 8.”

“It’s great for the immersion kids to see the arts live and in person and to see all the Indian kids dancing ballet,” Rhoades said.

Sixth-grade immersion teacher Curtis Washington enjoyed the performance.

“One of our students is involved with this ballet group and we wanted to do this for our students,” Washington said. “This will open another setting for them as they grow into junior high and high school.”

Washington’s students read the Cherokee translation of the story.

“The translation to Cherokee is pretty much what they would say and do on a daily basis,” he said. “Now they’ve heard the spoken parts.”

After the performance, director of the show, Lena Gladkova Huffman, asked the students which character they liked most.

The wolf, Peter and the cat were among the most popular.

Huffman said she enjoys seeing the reactions of the audience, especially when it’s children.

“I like being able to give the kids the experience of the arts in different forms, ballet but also a theatrical production,” said Huffman.

It was also a first live performance of ballet for Cherokee Language Instructor Ed Fields.

“I’ve seen it on TV. This is pretty good,” said Fields. “It’s always nice to see kids smiling and having fun.”

And for Reva Crawford, watching her grandson Bretly portray the wolf was wonderful. Not only does she like seeing the benefits for her grandson, she hopes the performance will encourage other students to find an interest in the arts.

“I hope our kids will inspire them to dance, especially the boys,” said Crawford. “Boys are not sissies who dance. When Bretly’s friends tease him, he tells them, ‘I’m in a room with pretty girls wearing Spandex and I get to dance with them.’”

The arts are really enriching for the kids, she said.

“The tribe has a contract with Barbara McAlister to teach voice, she gave Bretly a voice. Amanda Ray has built a drama department at Sequoyah and Sam Morris has made a wonderful band,” said Crawford. “These kids have so many opportunities.”

Bretly, a freshman, dreams of becoming a Broadway performer in New York. He’s also making plans to achieve his dream.

When Bretly was really young, his uncle would come from California to visit.

“He’s an actor. That started off my interest in the arts,” he said. “Then in middle school we had Creative Movement and I realized I’m not too bad at it. I loved the feeling of the crowd applauding,” he said.

Crawford will be attending Oklahoma City University, he said.

“It’s one of the top five percentile in the nation of performing arts schools,” said Crawford, “and from there, Broadway.”