Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei is Professor of Theatre at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she formerly served as the Head of Critical Studies and of Playwriting. An authority on post-war Japanese and cross-cultural performance, she is also an award-winning playwright, director, and translator of modern Japanese plays. Her best known original plays, such as Medea: A Noh Cycle Based on the Greek Myth, fuse Japanese and Western performance. Translations from Japanese include plays by Terayama Shūji, Kishida Rio, Katō Michio, and Iwasaki Masahiro. Articles and reviews have appeared in various encyclopedias, edited books, and journals such as Theatre Research International, TDR, Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, Asian Theatre Journal, and Contemporary Theatre Review. She serves as an associate editor for the Asian Theatre Journal and is the editor of the Association for Asian Performance Newsletter.
The Brothers Itō: Interweaving Art and Politics in Twentieth-Century Japanese-Western Performance
The remarkable Ito family of Japan produced four brothers who were innovators in twentieth century theatre in Japan, Europe and America. My current research focuses on Ito Michio (1892?-1961), the dancer for whom W.B. Yeats created At the Hawk’s Well (1916). The other theatrical brothers are Marxist/Brechtian director-actor Senda Koreya (born Ito Kunio, 1904-1996), who studied with Brecht in Germany, was repeatedly imprisoned in Japan for leftist politics, recanted, but then led a post-war, leftist shingeki troupe, prominent scenic/costume designer Ito Kisaku (1899-1967) who actively collaborated with the government during World War II, and music composer Ito Yuji. Eventually, J. Thomas Rimer and I will co-write/edit a book on all four brothers.
After studying art and dance in Germany and France, Ito Michio fled to London at the outbreak of World War I, where he performed as an ‘exotic Other’ in aristocratic, artistic circles. In the USA from 1916-1941, he danced and acted in vaudeville, opera, Broadway plays (originating the witchdoctor in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones) and films, and opened an influential dance school using his own version of Japanese-European techniques. After internment in a ‘relocation camp’ during WWII, he returned to Japan, where he wrote anti-American propaganda during the war. In the post-war period, he taught and performed with his brothers and others. My research focuses on a re-evaluation of Itō’s supposedly apolitical ‘Orientalist’ art. I analyze the interwoven cultural elements resulting from his life on three continents. For the current phase, I am exploring the transformation of his art and views in response to his incarceration in America.