Organized Panel Session
The modern dancer and choreographer Itō Michio spent the 1930s living in Los Angeles and traveling to Mexico City and Tokyo. In each place, Itō’s dancing body emerged as a flashpoint for spectators to construct differing notions of national belonging and identity. For example, in Los Angeles, Itō’s performances in civic arts institutions provoked disparate receptions from the mainstream, white arts community and from first- and second-generation Japanese immigrants. For both groups, his appearance became an opportunity to articulate a group identity around values of nationality, cosmopolitanism, and gendered expectations for modern dance.
One way we might understand the competing audience formations provoked by Itō’s performances is through the Japanese concept of kokutai. A term that has been significant to Japanese Studies because of its centrality to the political project of Japan’s nation- and empire-building in the 19th and 20th centuries, it nevertheless is usually understood metaphorically. Instead, this paper considers its literal meaning of “national body” to ask what it might mean for an individual to be a national body. The example of Itō’s dancing and its reception across these three sites offers a way to understand how performing bodies become the embodied vectors for national mythologies read into repertoires of personal, corporealized movement.