Japanese Dancer Chosen to Lead French Theater Center for First Time

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kaori Ito

Dancer and choreographer Kaori Ito has become the first Japanese director of the Centre Dramatique National de Strasbourg-Grand-Est, a regional base in France that supports the arts.

Ito is one of the few Japanese dancers and choreographers with a successful career in Europe. She took up her new post in January.

“I believe dance can heal the world,” she said in a recent interview, looking straight ahead with a dignified expression.

Ito first attracted public attention at the Yokohama Dance Collection competition in 2002 and has performed in works by world-renowned choreographers. In 2015, she launched her own dance company, called Hime, in France.

There are about 30 national theatrical centers in France, and obtaining the post of director at the Strasbourg center was a great challenge. Ito was asked to present specific project plans covering 10 years. She is responsible for both the creation of new works and the overall management of the theater.

Ito is currently working on a project on the theme of kintsugi, a traditional Japanese restoration technique that gives new value to broken objects.

“The more people who have been hurt can show their wounds, the stronger they might become. This might be able to fix a broken society,” Ito said.

A native of Tokyo, Ito was born to parents who are both sculptors. She has had strong feet since her childhood, and began studying classical ballet at the age of 5. However, she gradually began to question the traditional custom of whitening one’s skin with makeup and wearing blond wigs in the ballet world. Around that time, she encountered people such as dancer Min Tanaka who inspired her to pursue her own distinctive dance style.

Ito’s doll-like movements, born from her physical strength and keen sensitivity, have led her to be called a “sexy insect.”

Ito was recently surprised during a conversation with a kindergartener who said, “A mantis can save the world.”

“Children have amazing imagination and innocence,” Ito said. “I want adults to have that kind of imagination. I believe dance has power to change the atmosphere and soften our thoughts and bodies.” Ito’s words and actions are full of vitality, and she thinks outside the box.