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Michio Itō raising arms in gesture in loose long-sleeved top and flowing pants stepping forward on left foot, in an outdoor setting, photograph by Arnold Genthein
Michio Itō dancing outdoors in 1921, Arnold Genthe Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Celebrating Choreographer Michio Itō

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The Music Division is happy to announce the establishment of a special collection documenting the legacy of renowned choreographer and dancer Michio Itō (1893?-1961). In the 25-plus years he lived and performed in the United States, Itō had a profound influence on the development of modern dance, although his name and legacy are sadly not widely recognized today.

Michio Itō was born in Tokyo, where at a young age he began training in voice and piano. He went to Paris in 1912, intending to pursue a career as an opera singer, but he abandoned music for dance once he was exposed to performances featuring innovative stars like Isadora Duncan and Vaslav Nijinsky. This shift led him to travel to the Dalcroze Institute in Hellerau, Germany, where he was schooled in the movement and music practices of eurhythmics developed by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. At the outset of World War I, Itō moved to London where he was befriended by literati like Ezra Pound and William Butler Yeats who were fascinated by traditional Japanese arts and culture; simultaneously Itō was assimilating artists’ modernist influences into his own modern dance aesthetic and performance style.

Adolph Bolm’s Ballet Intime in 1917, the company’s founding year, in front of the Belasco Theatre (formerly the Lafayette Opera House) in Washington, D.C. Michio Ito is the fourth figure from left in light trousers and dark jacket. Adolph Bolm Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

The war in Europe motivated Itō to move to the United States in 1916. There choreographer Adolph Bolm chose Itō as one of a dozen international stars featured in his touring company Ballet Intime. On his own, Itō developed a following for his unique solo choreography in New York City, earning critical praise for his early works such as his shadow dance Pizzicati, performed to the Léo Delibes score for the ballet “Sylvia.” Pizzicati is a solo with expressive movement of the top half of the body while the legs are immobile.

Dana Tai Soon Burgess in photo-shoot of his restaging of Michio Itō's shadow dance titled Pizzicati.
Choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess intentionally replicated the poses captured in Toyo Miyatake’s 1929 photographs of Michio Itō’s Pizzicati for the photo shoot of his restaging. Contact prints by photographer Mary Nobel Ours, circa 1996. Dana Tai Soon Burgess Collection on Michio Itō, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Relocating to Los Angeles in late 1929 with his wife, dancer Hazel Wright, and two sons, he exploited uncredited opportunities in film as well as establishing his school, the Michio Itō Studio. In contrast to his poetic solos, Itō’s large-scale productions also garnered success, some of them featuring hundreds of performers at outdoor venues such as the Hollywood Bowl.

Program cover for Michio Itō’s performance in the Greek Theatre, Griffith Park, Los Angeles, 1933. Dana Tai Soon Burgess Collection on Michio Itō, Music Division, Library of Congress.

World War II escalated tension between the United States and Japan, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor triggered his arrest and wrongful internment, and in 1943 “forced repatriation” to Japan (a phrase used by Itō’s granddaughter Michele Itō, in “Michio Itō,” page ii). Michio Itō spent the rest of his life in Japan.

This collection came to the Music Division as a gift from Dana Tai Soon Burgess, a distinguished choreographer of the Washington metropolitan area whose company has been sponsored internationally by the United States Department of State. Following training with second-generation Itō practitioners in the early 1990s, Burgess’s interest grew into performing a set of Itō’s early solos. This collection includes materials documenting Itō’s career and school, as well as documentation of the efforts and performances of choreographers Satoru Shimazaki and Burgess himself to share and stage Itō’s artistic legacy. Together these materials augment those already in the care of the Library of Congress, such as the photographs of Itō and his students captured by celebrated photographer Arnold Genthe in the Prints and Photographs Division and documentation of Itō’s performances from the Library’s database Chronicling America containing digitized historic newspapers.

The Dana Tai Soon Burgess Collection on Michio Itō is currently undergoing processing to make it available to the public later in 2024.

 

Bibliography:

Burgess, Dana Tai Soon. “Dance and Social Justice: Retracing the Steps of Michio Itō,” In Milestones in Dance History. Routledge, 2023.

Caldwell, Helen. Michio Ito: The Dancer and His Dances. University of California Press, 1977.

Itō, Michio. Michio Itō’s Reminiscences of Ezra Pound, W.B. Yeats, and Other Matters. A Translation and Critical Edition of a Seminal Document in Modernist Aesthetics [titled] “Omoide wo kataru,” a talk given at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University, 7 December 1955, by Michio Itō.  Ed. David Ewick and Dorsey Kleitz. Edwin Mellen Press, 2018.

Wong, Yutian. “Artistic Utopias: Michio Ito and the Trope of the International.” In Worlding Dance. Ed. Susan Leigh Foster. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Comments (4)

  1. Thanks. Enjoyed reading about that rich era in the arts, and into this aspect I never knew about. Another gem in Music Division.

    • Thanks so much for your feedback, Rebecca. I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and I hope to contribute more posts about dance in this era.

  2. Itō is such a fascinating figure in the history of dance and I had not heard of him before seeing Dana Tai Soon Burgess’s work. It’s an important legacy.

  3. One of our patrons has suggested I share the Library of Congress catalog information on Dana Tai Soon Burgess’s 1922 memoir titled Chino and the Dance of the Butterfly, which includes a chapter about working with Itō’s protégés and growing up in New Mexico near the camp where Itō was interned. The link will take you to the online catalog record. Enjoy!

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