Journey: Thodos Dance to Bring Amazing Life of Sono Osato
• Phoenix Pavilion (Ho-o-den), which was donated
to the City of Chicago in 1893 as a symbol of friendship between Chicago
and Japan, has been producing another story of significance.
• About Sono Osato
• Sono was born on August 29, 1919 to
a Japanese father, Shoji Osato, and an Irish-French Canadian mother, Francis
Fitzpatrick. Shoji came to the U.S. from Akita Prefecture when he was
19. He learned camera skills later and worked as a cameraman for a local
newspaper in Omaha where he met Francis. The two went to Iowa to be married
because Nebraska had anti-miscegenation laws.
• A year later, Sono’s parents opened a tea house, which was built for the World Fair in 1933 adjacent to Phoenix Pavilion, and became the caretakers of Japanese Tea Garden and the Pavilion in 1935. Their work continued until 1944; however, Shoji was arrested by the FBI as an “alien enemy” and taken to a southside facility one day after the assault on Pearl Harbor. Consequently, his management of the tea garden ended. About 6 months later he was released on a protracted parole, but prohibited from leaving Chicago.
• On the other hand, Sono grew artistically and became adept during her career in the Ballet Russe from 1934 to 1940. She became an independent performer and began to work with the Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre). Sono’s image was a cosmopolitan figure of exotic, hybrid beauty. However, her half-Japanese heritage led to trouble when Ballet Theatre went on tour. Her travel was limited to certain areas and she was denied entry into Mexico.
• Sono’s Challenges
• Sono moved to New York and worked with
the Ballet Theatre on Broadway. In the fall of 1943, she played a role
of “Premiere Dancer” in One Touch of Venus and won rave reviews. In December,
1944, Sono played a role of Ivy Smith, beauty queen of the subway, and
became a star. Although the U.S. seemed to be winning the war, prejudice
toward Japanese people was still strong, even though the War Department
announced on December 17 that the mass evacuation of people of Japanese
ancestry from the West Coast was ended.
• Alissa Thodos, who met Sono many times, said “She made it because of her passion. She was strong, and her passion was what drove her. She was very, very, talented and a hard worker.” Alissa also said, “Seeing the world and the creative environment became her teacher. Her intelligence, her talents, and her drive for passion were what made her a star.”
• Alissa’s meeting with Sono
• The Thodos Dance Chicago previously performed “White City”, and the performance brought Robert Karr, President of Project 120, to meet Sharon Lear, Board President of the Thodos Dance. Karr’s Project 120 has been working for revitalization of the Japanese garden in Jackson Park, and Karr is an expert of the history of Phoenix Pavilion and surrounding things. He also knew about Sono’s story.
• The new connection brought Alissa to Sono’s home in North Carolina. Sono and Alissa talked about the Dance for three hours immediately after they met each other. Sono had amazing memories with details that were never be found in books or articles. Alissa said, “The fact is, her life was monumental. It was unbelievable how many challenges she faced.”
• Alissa visited Sono at least once a
month to work on “Sono’s Journey.” She said, “Every time we see each other,
there was always something new to talk about to share.”
• Sono’s Journey
• Sono’s Journey is 45-minute performance,
and Alissa had to make so many decisions about what would be included
or not. All the performance was based on what Sono said to Alissa directly.
• On the other hand, Sono loved her family
and where she came from. She also loved her own family. She married Victor
in the 1940s and raised two sons. Her younger brother Timothy joined the
442nd Regimental Combat Team and fought in the front lines in Europe.
• Regarding their project of “Sono’s Journey”, Alissa said that it was natural to take Sono’s story as one of the components of a big umbrella of revitalizing Jackson Park and Japanese Garden where Sono and her family were deeply connected. Sono’s journey would nurture the Japan-US relationships and bring them forward in people’s minds and eyes.
• Sono’s Journey by Thodos Dance Chicago, Performance information
• Jan/9 (Sat) at 7:30 pm
• Feb/20 (Sat) at 7:30 pm
• Mar/5 (Sat) at 7:30 pm
• Chicago Revealed post show VIP