Yuriko in “Shut Not Your Doors,” 1946. (Library of Congress)

NEW YORK — Yuriko, a dancer and choreographer best known for her work with Martha Graham, passed away on March 8 in Manhattan. She was 102.

Born Yuriko Amemiya in San Jose on Feb. 2, 1920 to Morishige and Chiyo Amemiya, she was sent to Japan by her mother in 1923 in order to escape an influenza epidemic that killed her father and two sisters. She returned to California at age 6 but was left in Japan in 1929 after her mother’s second marriage ended.

Yuriko began her dance training in Tokyo and performed with the Konami Ishii Dance Company from 1930 to 1937. She then returned to the U.S. and studied ballet with Dorothy Lyndall’s Junior Dance Company in Los Angeles while working at a florist shop.

During World War II, she was incarcerated at the Tulare Assembly Center and the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona, and taught dance at both camps. After being released in 1943, she moved to New York City, worked as a seamstress (becoming the first Japanese American member of the ILGWU) and joined Martha Graham’s dance company. She married Charles Kikuchi, a psychiatric social worker, in 1946 and they had two children. Kikuchi died in 1988.

Graham welcomed Yuriko even when the war with Japan was still raging. During her 50 years with Graham, Yuriko danced in the first production of “Clytemnestra” as well as in “Appalachian Spring,” “Cave of the Heart,” “Dark Meadow,” “Night Journey” and “Embattled Garden.” She later reconstructed a number of Graham’s early dances such as “Primitive Mysteries.”

Yuriko in the mid-1960s, performing in Martha Graham’s “Primitive Mysteries.” (Courtesy of Martha Graham Resources)

Yuriko also did solo concerts, with famed artist Isamu Noguchi designing some of the costumes.

She performed on Broadway in the original productions of “The King and I” (1951-54) and “Flower Drum Song” (1958-60), both by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and directed the 1977-78 Broadway revival of “The King and I.” She also performed on television and in movies, including the 1956 screen adaptation of “The King and I.” Her daughter Susan also danced in stage musicals.

Yuriko’s students included such dancers as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Reiko Sato, and Miki Orihara.

In 1967, the year she received a Guggenheim Fellowship in choreography, she formed her own modern dance company, which remained active until 1973. Other honors included a Bessie Award (1991), an honorary doctorate from the Boston Conservatory (2006) and the Martha Hill Dance Fund Lifetime Achievement Award (2012).

In the mid-2000s, Yuriko launched the Arigato Project, a volunteer effort to stage a group of Graham dances that had passed into the public domain. In 2020, Martha Graham Dance released a video celebrating Yuriko’s 100th birthday.

Survivors include her daughter Susan Kikuchi Kivnick, son Lawrence, and three grandchildren.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.