Did you know? Mary Sano

By In Dance

October 1, 2015, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

ON OCTOBER 2ND Dancers’ Group and World Arts West will present Mary Sano and Her Duncan Dancers as part of the Rotunda Dance Series at San Francisco City Hall. Sano is a third generation disciple of Isadora Duncan, the famed modern dance choreographer who was born in San Francisco in 1877.

A native of Japan, Sano is a protégée of Mignon Garland who founded the Isadora Duncan Heritage Society (IDHS) in SanFrancisco. She began to study with Garland in 1979, and established the Japan branch of the IDHS in 1983. In the Bay Area, Sano began to train a group of dancers in the Duncan style, forming her dance company in 1993 and then the Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing in 1997.

Dancers’ Group was eager to learn more about Sano’s inspirations to start a life in dance as well as her motivations to teach and choreograph.

solo female dancer in pink in pink background
photo of Mary Sano by Shigeo Seya

What inspired you to start dancing?
I was always dancing with music. As a child, rhythm was inside of me. When I discovered Duncan dance, I felt it was very different from any other dance I had studied before as it gave me the freedom to express my feelings. I also felt the movements are universal, harmonious and spiritual.

How do you describe your studio?
The Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing is dedicated to the preservation and promulgation of Isadora Duncan’s art, and to exploring its contemporary relevance through ongoing new work. With this mission, I was ready to start my own studio with my teacher’s guidance in 1997. I had been developing my own dance company for several years by that time, and felt it was the right time to create a home for our group as well as for other artists in the Bay Area. At the studio, I teach children as well as adults of all levels. After the basic Duncan training, I challenge them to create new works based on this technique.

What are the activities and programs that take place at the school?
The Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing has been presenting bi-annual music and dance festivals since it’s opening. The Dionysian Festival in May, celebrating Isadora Duncan’s birthday, and the Terpsichorean Celebration in November, commemorating the studio’s opening. These festivals feature Mary Sano and her Duncan Dancers as well as many talented artists from around the world and we celebrated our 18th annual Dionysian Festival in May of this year. With my repertoire of Duncan choreography including all of Duncan’s masterpieces set to the works of Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, Gluck, and Scriabin, I often teach seasonal 7-8 week Duncan dance courses and workshops. The studio also offers classes in different disciplines, including yoga, traditional Indian dance, beginning ballet, and improvisational theater/movement.

What is unusual or unique about you and the work you do?
I consider it my mission to keep the Duncan tradition alive and transmit her classic works, but also to create new works based on the Duncan philosophy and esthetic. I believe that my background as a citizen of mixed race that spent much of my early life in Japan has given me a unique perspective on dance and art, and I often seek to create new works that fuse different cultural artistic mediums.

If no one knew anything about your work, what would you want them to know?
I am constantly interpreting Duncan’s choreography. Each time I perform Duncan pieces, I am different, so I dance with my own color and essence. If the dancer does not live in the moment with their feelings, it is hard to create a true performance. You give all to the moment, and this moment never comes back. That is the true essence of Duncan’s work, and all performing art for that matter.

What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
With our 10th anniversary performance gala at the Cowell Theater in 2008, we were able to present highlights of my work both in Duncan dance and my choreography with my group of 8 adult dancers, 4 youth dancers, and 5 live musicians.

Do you have a favorite performance or memorable moment with the school and/or company?
When we performed among the statues of Rodin at the Legion of Honor in 2000. I premiered new choreography entitled Dances of Flowers, and Duncan choreography dedicated to Georgia O’Keeffe and Isadora Duncan with my original “Duncan Dancers.” These four members are no longer dancing with me, but I remember our moment together very clearly.

What programs or activities do you have coming up?
I am spending more time in Japan now, with my Japanese school in Tokyo becoming active. My next activity is in Gifu, Japan, in my home town. I am performing my solo dance series Dancing Dreaming Isadora No. 5 in December, 2015. The city of Gifu is partially funding the project and I will bring my long time accompanist/pianist from Tokyo for the Duncan choreography and composer/pianist Tony Chapman from Los Angeles for the pieces with original choreography.

What’s a future goal or dream that you have for your work?
We hope to celebrate our 20th anniversary season in 2017 at a theater in San Francisco. I hope to gather all of my former dancers and Japanese dancers for this special performance.

Do you have a favorite dance move?
Leap running and the movement of lying down and rising up from the floor.

A favorite piece of music to dance to?
Beethoven’s symphony No. 7

Do you have a favorite writer or book?
The Art of the Dance by Isadora Duncan

If you could invite four dancers/ artists /choreographers to dinner who would that be and why?
Isadora Duncan, Mark Morris, Jean Cocteau, and Zeami. I adore their originality, pure creativity, and leadership in their field of art. I would love to have a casual conversation with them about life and art. I consider them heroes and geniuses of their respective eras.

What haven’t we asked that you want people to know?
I was born in Gifu, Japan to a Japanese mother and American father. I was raised by my mother, the strongest person I have ever known.

In Dance is a publication of Dancers' Group.