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Amazing Story of Sono Osato, Sono’s Journey Premiered in Chicago

• Sono’s Journey, Japanese-American dancer Sono Osato’s amazing story, was premiered on January 9 at the Auditorium Theatre stage where she auditioned and was immediately accepted by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo 82 years ago. On the discovery of Sono’s story, the Thodos Dance Chicago transformed it in the form of dance performance.
• The performance beautifully described Sono’s parents and family, Sono’s first ballet lesson in Paris, her audition scene when she was 14, brilliant Broadway scenes, falling in love with Victor, and Sono’s new family.
• The full story of Sono’s Journey was printed in 2016 New Year’s Special Issue and is also available at http://www.chicagoshimpo.com.

• Sono Osato, now 96 years old, traveled from New York by train and attended a pre-performance reception with her family members.
• At the reception, Sharon Lear, Thodos Dance Board President, related how the dance company encountered Sono’s extraordinary story.
• The White City, Thodos Dance’s past performance, which described the Columbian Exposition, brought the company and Robert Karr together. Karr is President of Project 120, which has worked on restoring Phoenix Garden and Jackson Park in Chicago. He has a detailed knowledge about the 1893 Exposition, especially, Phoenix Pavilion and the adjacent Japanese garden. He also knew that Sono was a daughter of Shoji and Frances Osato, who were caretakers of the Japanese garden and the Phoenix Pavilion.

• Consul General Toshiyuki Iwado spoke about the Japan-Chicago relationship that started with the Columbian Exposition, Sono and her family’s sufferance during WWII, and Sono’s success in Broadway amid the sentiments against Japanese Americans.

• Melissa Thodos, Thodos Dance Chicago Founder & Artistic Director, created, choreographed, and directed Sono’s Journey based on repeated interviews with Sono. Melissa said that Sono’s Journey was special and unique, and she was honored working on the piece.

An Interview with Sono’s Son

• Niko Elmaleh, Sono’s son, spoke about his young days of memories about Sono in a Chicago Shimpo’s interview. He said, “She was a great mother and always very warm. She was a very strong woman and disciplined.”
• Elmaleh was born in 1947 after Sono had retired, so he never saw her performance. However, he was able to see her performance in some films. One is Frank Sinatra’s 1948 movie “The Kissing Bandit”. Some of the scenes can be viewed by going online.
• He proudly stated, “She was a star in Broadway after she was a star in ballet. She won a Tony Award in 1943.” Sono played a main role of “Premiere Dancer” in One Touch of Venus in 1943 and received rave reviews. She also played a lead role of Ivy Smith, beauty queen of the subway.
• He said, “They chose her because she could do all of the dancing, and she was very beautiful and believable. She was known not just for being a fine dancer, but also a very good actress. My mother was very good at expressing the feelings of the dance.”

• Elmaleh talked about an anecdote when he applied for a passport. When an elderly woman with gray hair looked at his document, she asked him, “Is Sono Osato your mother?” She said that she saw Sono when she was a little girl, and her performance was amazing.

• Unfortunately, Elmaleh didn’t remember his grandfather Shoji Osato because he lived in New York, and Shoji lived in Chicago and passed away when he was seven or eight years old. On the other hand, he had a little memory of his grandmother Frances.
• He remembered well about his uncle Timothy, Sono’s younger brother, who volunteered for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and fought in the front lines in Europe. Timothy’s daughter became an artist, and her name is Sono Osato. He said, “Sono Osato ni-ban (the second)”.

• Niko Elmaleh didn’t become a dancer and took a real estate and investment business career as his father Victor did. Through his investment business, he has worked with Kobe Steel in Japan on the green energy technology.

Further performance schedules of Sono’s Journey are:

• 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


Thodos Dance Chicago’s Sono’s Journey is a stirring story dance celebrating the life of legendary Japanese-American dance artist, Sono Osato. Pictured, front, red dresses, from left: Thodos Dance ensemble member Abby Ellison, Shelby Moran and Jessica Miller Tomlinson portray Sono during different chapters of her life. Photo credit: Chloe Hamilton


Thodos Dance Chicago’s Sono’s Journey is a stirring story dance celebrating the life of legendary Japanese-American dance artist, Sono Osato. Pictured: (front row, second from left, head down) Thodos Dance ensemble member Jessica Miller Tomlinson as Sono as a young girl in dance class. Photo credit: Chloe Hamilton