Beth Dean and Moscelyne Jasinsky: Parallel lives devoted to dance

The deaths of two dancers, one in Sydney, New South Wales, the other in Tulsa, Oklahoma, are reminders of the debt we owe to Russian dance pioneers in Australia and the United States.

Beth Dean, who died on 5 February, 2012 and Moscelyne Larkin Jasinsky, who died on 25 April, 2012, were both born in the United States and both lived long and fruitful lives.

Their careers were both shaped by the teaching of Russian mentors, and their influence on succeeding generations has been profound.

In her 80s, Dean was still doing a daily barre. Her entire life was dedicated to dance, from the day her mother took her to a ballet class in her home city, Denver, Colorado.

With the encouragement of her mother, Winifred, but not her father, engineer Charles, Beth was soon travelling the world, studying with eminent dance teachers.

Their names are indicative of the seeding of ballet in the United States by émigré Russians. Beth Dean’s first teacher was the Russian, Victor Petroff, but she went on to train with the former Ballets Russes’ dancer, Theodore Kosloff, then Serge Popeloff, who had danced with Pavlova, and the Russians, Nicolai Legat, and Olga Preobrajenska.

And all that before dancing in musicals in New York then travelling to Australia as a dancer in J C Williamson’s production of Annie Get Your Gun, which opened in Melbourne and played for many months in that city, then in New Zealand and Sydney.

During the three year run of the musical, Dean had enough spare time to begin to study Aboriginal and Maori dancing.

In 1954, she choreographed a ballet to John Anthill’s score, Coroborore, with the choreography based on her knowledge of Aboriginal dances and ceremonies that she had studied in the previous year. The premiere took place at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney at a Royal Gala, staged for Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Australia.

The décor and costumes were designed by William Constable and the Sydney Symphony was conducted by Anthill for the premiere.

Dean herself danced the main role of The Initiate in the ballet. Others in the cast included Helene Ffrance, Bruno Harvey, Ruth Galene, and Aina Reega.

The stage manager was the Australian-born Victor Carell, the singer and actor whose international career brought him eventually to the United States where he married Dean in Detroit in 1944.

Three years later, they came to Australia which was to be their home for the rest of their lives.

The 1930s to the 1950s were the decades when dancers often switched between ballet and show biz as work became available.

The dancers contracted to the companies of Col de Basil often followed that path, among them Moscelyne Larkin Jasinsky who danced in the Ballets Russes as Moussia Larkina.

When that ballet work ceased, she danced at Radio City Music Hall in New York .

Her husband was Roman Jasinsky, one of the most acclaimed Ballets Russes’ dancers to tour Australia in both the second and third tours of de Basil’s company between 1938 and 1940.

Born in Poland, Jasinsky had danced with Ida Rubinstein’s company in Paris, and with Leonide Massine at La Scala before joining the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1932. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he remained with the Ballets Russes in its various reincarnations until 1947.

He met Moscelyne Larkin in New York in the early 1940s. Born in the small town of Miami, Oklahoma, in 1925, she was the daughter of a Russian mother and a native American father.

In the same way as Beth Dean, she travelled with her mother from her middle American home town, to train elsewhere. Moscelyne was only 13 when she moved to New York. Two years later she auditioned successfully for de Basil’s company and then in 1943, she married Jasinsky during the company’s long tour of South American countries.

When Roman and Moscelyne retired from performing in 1954, they settled in Tulsa, starting a dance school which eventually grew into the Tulsa Ballet. Roman Jasinsky died in 1991.

I’m not sure if Moscelyne Jasinsky ever met Beth Dean – but if not, it’s a pity as they had so much in common, from their birthplaces in the middle USA states of Colorado and Oklahoma, to their early Russian training, from their life-long energy and commitment and their years of travelling the world, to their generosity in giving so much to the dance world in their own separate communities.

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