Michio Itō

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Michio Itō
Michio Ito 1 - Nov 1919 Shadowland.jpg
Born(1892-04-13)April 13, 1892
Tokyo, Japan
DiedNovember 6, 1961(1961-11-06) (aged 69)
Tokyo, Japan

Michio Itō (伊藤 道郎, Itō Michio, 13 April 1892 - 6 November 1961) was a Japanese dancer who developed his own choreography style in Europe and America. He was the son of Kimiye Iijima and architect Tamekichi Ito who was educated at the University of Washington; he was one of nine children, and the brother of Director Koreya Senda.[1]


Michio left Japan as a teenager to study classic music in Paris. After learning musical theory Dalcroze eurhythmics, Hellerau in Germany, he started to explore modern dance. He was an associate of William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, Angna Enters, Isamu Noguchi, Louis Horst, Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Lillian Powell, Vladimir Rosing, Pauline Koner, Lester Horton and others. He danced with the Anglo-Indian dancer Roshanara in 1917,[2] and with French-Indian dancer Nyota Inyoka in 1923-1924.[3][4]

He married Dancer Hazel Agness (1902 -1971), who was performed professionally as Hazel Wright in 1923; they divorced in 1936.[5] They had two children: Donald and Gerald. Their son Gerald "Jerry" Tamekichi Ito (1927-2007) became an actor.

New York[edit]

He was active in New York City from 1916 to 1929, when he moved to California. His works in New York included "Bushido" (1916),"Tamura" (1918), "Cherry Blossoms" (1927), "Nuages et Fetes" (1929), and "Turando"(1929). He was particularly well-known for "The Pinwheel Review" (1923) and for being a headliner in William Collier's "Ching-a-Ling Revue" (1927) which featured many well-known performers such as: the Three Meyakos (whose real names were Esther, Florence and George Kudara); Hisako Koine; and J. Ah Chung and E. Don Sang (formerly vaudeville performers in the Chung Hwa Four).[6]

While in New York he championed the idea of a performance space for dancers.[7] This idea resulted in the Theatre Arts Building which was managed by the Dance Guild, Inc., and provided two theatres and 250 studios with living quarters.[8]


He moved to California in 1929 at the start of the Great Depression. He worked on several movies during this time, though his work was not always credited. In 1931, he opened Michio Ito Studios, his dance school at Hollywood Boulevard and Wilton Place. His wife, Hazel Wright, was on the faculty there. Dorothy Wagner and Jessmin Howarth were also listed as instructors at the school.[9] He performed several symphonic dance poems at the Hollywood Bowl, including ones to "Prince Igor" and "Scheherazade". These events were spectacular due to the size of the performance; they featured one hundred twenty-five dancers, a two hundred person choir and an orchestra of one hundred musicians.[10]

In 1931, the Itō's travelled to Japan.[11] His party included his wife Hazel Wright, their two children, along with some performers. The visit marked a homecoming for Michio who had been gone from Japan for nearly twenty years. Five performances were held in the two months he was in Japan. One performance was marred by an arrest of Hazel Wright during her performance at the International Club in Tokyo. An Inspector General and five policeman interrupted the performance by making an arrest for "social dancing." Tangos and Waltzes were perceived as a moral hazard in Japan during this period and were prohibited. Itō and the club's chairman supplied the permits and approvals they had received along with arguments that the dancing on stage exempted them from the current regulations. Their release occurred at two in the morning, and their arguments must have been successful because further police actions were avoided.[12]

In 1939, Itō surprised many when he assisted Sally Rand, one of his former students, with a benefit to support a repertory dance theater group. Rand and Itō performed a duet at the event.[13] Earlier the previous year he choreographed the "Dance of the Peacock" for her movie The Sunset Murder Case (1938).

Itō travelled to Japan in 1939 for his parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary.

World War II and Internment[edit]

In 1941, Michio was arrested and held at four different internment facilities; first in Montana (Fort Missoula), Oklahoma (Fort Sill), Louisiana (Camp Livingston), and New Mexico (Santa Fe).[14] He was eventually deported from the United States after the outbreak of World War II.[15] His son "Jerry" Ito served in the U.S. Navy during the war. Itō and his second wife, Tsuyako, sailed to Japan as part of a prisoner exchange.[16] He arrived in Yokohama in 1944.

Post War Years In Japan[edit]

Upon arriving in Japan, he told newspapers at a press conference that "the American fighting spirit cannot be underestimated."[17] Upon arrival, he worked creating the Greater East Asia Stage Arts Research Institute. After Japan surrendered in 1945, he was chosen to manage the Ernie Pyle Theatre which was created by the United States to entertain American troops.[18][19] Japanese citizens were not allowed to attend performances. "Fantasy Japonica" was the his first production there, "Jungle Drums" (1946), "Sakura Flowers" (1947) and "Rhapsody In Blue" (1947) performances also received press attention. While at the Ernie Pyle, he brought his brother Kisaku Ito on as Scenic Designer. In 1948, Ito was permitted to mount a production for the Japanese public of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.[20] His work was not restricted to the Ernie Pyle as he put on other performances in Japan during this time. He also formed a dancing school while in Tokyo.[21] The Ernie Pyle continued as an American Theatre until after his death; finally closing in 1966 and reverting to the original Japanese owners.

He was creator of the "Holiday In Japan" show for the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas.[22]

In 1960, he was chosen to direct two of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics events: the Torch Relay and the opening ceremony. Articles reveal that he had plans for the Olympic torch bearers to leave Greece following the path of Marco Polo to Japan.[23] His plans for the Olympics were not realized. He died on 6 November 1961, at the age of 67.



  1. ^ "Michio Ito Dead; Japanese Dancer". The New York Times. 7 November 1961.
  2. ^ Deborah Jowitt (1989). Time and the Dancing Image. University of California Press. pp. 147–148. ISBN 978-0-520-06627-4.
  3. ^ Archbald, Anne (November 1923). "The Vanity Box". Theatre Magazine. 38: 68.
  4. ^ "Winter Interludes Which are Instinct with Grace and Rhythm". Vanity Fair. 21: 42. December 1923.
  5. ^ "Dancing Wife Divorces Ito". The New York Times. 2 April 1936. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  6. ^ "Shubert Playhouse Advertisement for "Ching-A-Ling" an Ameri-Oriental Revue". Delaware County Times. 10 January 1927. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  7. ^ "To Aid Homeless Dancers". New York Times. 10 March 1928. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  8. ^ "The Dance: A New Home - Music Events. Project of Michio Ito for Theatre Building is Taking Shape". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  9. ^ "Winter Course At Dance School To Open". Los Angeles Evening Post. 24 January 1931. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  10. ^ Jones, Isabelle. "Bowl Mixes Temperaments". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  11. ^ "Japanese Dancer to Visit Homeland". Detroit Free Press. 1 March 1931. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  12. ^ Rodman, Tara. Altered Belonging. p. 158.
  13. ^ "Sally Rand Gives Classical Version". The Pittsburgh Press. 16 January 1939. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  14. ^ Rodman, Tara (2018). Altered Belonging: The Transnational Dance of Michio Ito. Northwestern University Dissertation. p. 188.
  15. ^ Riordan, Kevin (2017). "Performance In the Wartime Archive; Michio Ito at the Alien Enemy Hearing Board". American Studies. 56 (1): 67–89. doi:10.1353/ams.2017.0003. S2CID 148760569.
  16. ^ Rodman, Tara. Altered Belonging. p. 193.
  17. ^ "Repatriot Warns Japs Not to Sneer at Yanks War Spirit". The San Francisco Examiner. 20 November 1943. p. 2. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  18. ^ "Michio Ito and Gerald Ito". The Miami Herald. 31 December 1946. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  19. ^ "We are Dancers of Japan". Des Moines Tribune. 20 December 1946. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  20. ^ "Japan Enjoys Its First Glimpse of 'The Mikado'". Oakland Tribune. 29 January 1948. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  21. ^ Palmer, Kyle (26 October 1949). "Japs Plan Center to Attract Tourists". The Los Angeles Times.
  22. ^ "Marketplace Teahouse Planned". The Honolulu Advertiser. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  23. ^ "Marco Polo's Path May Be Retraced By Olympic Flame". The San Bernardino County Sung. 23 August 1960. Retrieved 6 June 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Caldwell, Helen. Michio Ito: The Dancer and His Dances. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.
  • Cohen-Stratyner, Barbara Naomi. 1982. Biographical dictionary of dance. New York: Schirmer Books.
  • Cowell, M. (2001). Dance chronicle: Michio Ito in Hollywood: Modes and Ironies of Ethnicity. Taylor & Francis.
  • Cowell, M., & Shimazaki, S. (1994). "East and West in the Work of Michio Ito", Dance Research Journal, 26(2), 11-23. doi:1. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/1477913 doi:1.
  • The Dances of Michio Ito (2007), a film produced by the Chamber Dance Company. Performances taped in 2001 at the Meany Theatre and the Meany Studio Theatre, University of Washington; dances reconstructed by Taeko Furusho.
  • Michio Ito: Pioneering Dance-Choreographer (2013), a film directed by Bonnie Oda Homsey for the Los Angeles Dance Foundation.
  • Takeishi, Midori, ed. and rev. by David Pacun. Japanese Elements in Michio Ito’s Early Period (1915-1924): Meetings of East and West in the Collaborative Works, (Tokyo: Gendaitosho, 2006).
  • Michio Ito's personal papers are located at the California Ethnic & Multicultural Archives, UC Santa Barbara Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.

External links[edit]