Sono Osato, Boundary-Breaking Japanese-American Dancer, Dies at 99
Sono Osato, a trailblazing ballet and musical theater dancer, passed away last Wednesday at her home in New York City.
Best known for originating the role of Miss Turnstiles in Jerome Robbins' hit On the Town—one of Broadway's first non-segregated musicals—Osato got her start at 14 as the youngest member of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, and as the troupe's first Japanese-American performer. She went on to dance for Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre), where she found success in New York City but was banned from touring in Mexico and California because of her Japanese background. For a brief time, Osato went by her mother's maiden name, Fitzpatrick, in an effort to escape the World War II-era anti-Japanese sentiment. During the war, her father was confined under military guard in Chicago as an enemy alien.
Osato won a Donaldson Award for best female dancer for her first Broadway show, One Touch of Venus, choreographed by Agnes de Mille. She performed acting roles in two additional Broadway shows, Willie the Weaper and a 1951 revival of Ibsen's Peer Gynt, and appeared in the 1948 film The Kissing Bandit alongside Frank Sinatra.
Later in life, Osato was a significant benefactor of Career Transitions for Dancers and received the organization's award for Outstanding Contributions to the World of Dance in 2008. In 2015, she was the subject of a dance-theater piece for Thodos Dance Chicago, which was based on interviews with Osato.
Our thoughts are with Osato's family and friends.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.