Sono Osato in One Touch of Venus

One of the last surviving performers from Weill’s Broadway shows has passed away. Ballerina Sono Osato, premiere danseuse of One Touch of Venus, died 26 December 2018. She started out with the Ballets Russes and also starred as Ivy Smith (Miss Turnstiles) in Bernstein’s On the Town during her brief but memorable stage career.

On 22 July 1943, choreographer Agnes de Mille, already working on the ballets for Venus, wrote to Weill that she was about to interview Osato: “Look up her pictures in any old Ballet Russe program and drop dead with joy. She’ll lead the Bacchanale [i.e., “Venus in Ozone Heights”] and make history” (see photo at right). Osato took the job, and she did more for the production than contribute magnificent dancing. Mary Martin, in her first lead role on Broadway, credited Osato with helping her play Venus by improving her walk and onstage movement and boosting her confidence, telling her to “Keep your head up, stand straight . . . Think tall.” Osato did more than anyone to give Martin the regal bearing required to play the goddess.

In 1943, Broadway was waking up to new kinds of dance: de Mille had led the way with extended ballets that advance the story in Oklahoma!, and she continued the new trend in Venus, with Osato executing her complex schemes. Osato’s Broadway debut won rapturous praise from reviewers. Nearly every major critic singled her out; Wolcott Gibbs of the New Yorker paid his “deep respects” to her because “she alarmed and fascinated me almost unbearably.” She was featured in Life as well as PM and Cue. It was a trying time for Osato; as a Japanese-American, she could never feel completely safe while the U.S. was at war with Japan, and her father was confined in Chicago as an enemy alien. Yet critics and audiences embraced her dazzling performances and haunting beauty.

There is no doubt that Osato could have enjoyed a long career on Broadway or in the ballet if she had not chosen to devote herself to her family and to helping other dancers. Her advent at a crucial moment in the history of dance on Broadway had a decisive impact that helped change the course of the Broadway musical.

Obituary from the New York Times