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Sono’s 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.
• A Japanese American girl, Sono Osato, a daughter of caretakers for Phoenix Pavilion and Japanese garden in Jackson Park, became one of the most influential, barrier-breaking artists ever in American dance by overcoming war-time sentiments and prejudice.
• Sono’s incredible story “Sono’s Journey” was created and choreographed by Melissa Thodos, founder and Artistic Director of the Thodos Dance Chicago, and will premiere on January 9, 2016 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
• Sono is now 96 years old and in good health. “Sono’s Journey” will artistically reflect the life of acclaimed dancer Sono’s amazing story in the form of dance. Some pantomimes and narrations will help the audience to understand the whole story. The dance company will show you how Sono became a star on Broadway amid WWII, while 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned in concentration camps.

• 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.
• The couple moved to Chicago in 1925 where Francis’s family had settled. They recognized Sono’s dancing talent and prepared for her future.
• At age of 14, Sono auditioned on the stage of the Auditorium Theatre, and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo immediately accepted her. She left her family and started to work on her dream career.

• 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.
• Sono’s prodigious talent, along with her intelligence and beauty finally overcame the social and racial constraints surrounded her.

• 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 is 96 years old now, “but she is still expressive. When she moves her hands, she has a lot of grace. And she is a very approachable and humble person. She is really special,” Alissa described about Sono.

• 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.
• Probably, one of the impressive scenes would be Sono’s success as a star in Broadway. Alissa said that as a Japanese American, Sono was very anxious before going on the stage. Alissa quoted Sono’s words, “Only on Broadway, only in the art, these things can transcend a life and the world. I am a star. I’m accepted as all the American girls; even though, I’m a Japanese American on Broadway because of my art.”

• 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.
• Sono also founded “the Sono Osato Scholarship Program in Graduate Studies at Career Transition for Dancers” to help eager dancers, who carry out their careers.

• 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
• Location: Auditorium Theatre
• 50 E. Congress Pkwy, Chicago
• Tickets: $28-$68
• Online: AuditoriumTheatre.org
• Phone: 312-341-2300
• Theatre’s Box Office

• Feb/20 (Sat) at 7:30 pm
• Location: North Shore Center for the Performing Arts
• 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL
• Tickets: $28-$50
• Online: NorthShoreCenter.org
• Phone: 847-673-6300

• Mar/5 (Sat) at 7:30 pm
• Location: Harris Theater for Music and Dance
• 205 E. Randolph St., Chicago
• Tickets: $15-$65
• 40% off for students and seniors
• Online: harristheaterchicago.org
• Phone: 312-334-7777

• Chicago Revealed post show VIP Gala
• Mar/5 at 9:30 pm following the Harris concert
• Location: Pritzker Pavilion, glass enclosed stage
• Tickets: $275 or $500 including pre-show cocktails, concert tickets, VIP seating, open bar, hors d’oeuvres, dancing, dessert and coffee stations.
• Online: thodosdancechicago.org
• Phone: 312-266-6255