Mary Sano, artistic director of the Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing is a protégée of Mignon Garland, who founded the Isadora Duncan Heritage Society (IDHS) in San Francisco in 1971. A native of Japan, Sano began to study Duncan dance with Garland in San Francisco in 1979, and established the Japanese branch of the IDHS in 1983. She published a Japanese edition of Isadora by Fredrika Blair in 1990 from Parco Publishing in Tokyo, Japan. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Sano received an MA in Dance from Mills College in 1991 and began to train a group of dancers in the Duncan style, and formed Mary Sano and Her Duncan Dancers in 1993. In 1997, Sano established the Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing in San Francisco dedicated to the preservation and promulgation of Isadora Duncan’s art, and exploring its contemporary relevance through ongoing new works.
Sano directs a company whose repertoire includes all of Duncan’s masterpieces set to the works of Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, Gluck, and Scriabin. She also creates new choreography developed out of her deep knowledge of the Duncan technique and philosophy, combined with modern dance influences, traditional Japanese dance, and improvisational theater technique. Major dance productions include Past, Present, Future: Wishing Moon, performed in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the U.S.-Japan Peace Treaty signing in San Francisco, in 2001; Duncan Dance: Zen and Now, a fusion of Asian influences and Duncan technique which she premiered in Budapest 2002; Sano’s solo dance series「イサドラ・ダンカンの夢を踊る」in Tokyo in 2003, 2005, 2012, 2014, 2015; Amaterasu, The Blind Woman and Hiroshima, a dance-drama collaboration with writer/professor Moira Roth premiered at the Gakugeki Festival in Kyoto, Japan in 2004; The Noh Seminar Series, experimental theater performances combining Duncan Dance technique and Noh Theater works with noted Japanese traditional Noh Theater artists at the Mary Sano Studio in 2006; The Mary Sano Dance Studio’s 10th anniversary gala Dancing Dreaming Isadora at the Cowell Theater in San Francisco in 2008; Ship of Dreams: Kanrin Maru-150 Years of Hope, Struggle, and Friendship to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Kanrin Maru voyage and the US-Japan relationship at the Brava Theater in San Francisco in 2010; and the Mary Sano Studio’s 20th anniversary performance Dancing Dreaming Isadora: Reflections on the Past, Visions of the Future at the ODC Theater in San Francisco in 2018.
The Mary Sano Studio of Duncan Dancing has been presenting bi-annual music and dance festivals since it’s opening in 1997. 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 local and international artists.
Sano’s projects have been awarded funding from the Japan Foundation in 2010, 2006 and 2001, the Zellerbach Family Foundation in 2010 and 2007, the Fort Mason Foundation 2008, Grants for the Arts Voluntary Arts Fund in 2016, 2012 and 2008, and the San Francisco Arts Commission Organizational Project Grant in 2010. Media features include Greek TV in Athens in 1994, NHK Special Documentary Series ‘Eizou no Seiki’ in 1995, KBS TV in Seoul in 2000, KQED TV on SPARK in San Francisco in 2009, and NHK TV Gifu Culture in 2015.
Sano has taught and performed in England, Greece, Hungary, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Japan, and the United States. She has presented a series of salon concerts; performing her original works as well as traditional Duncan choreography independently and with a group of dancers she has trained in Tokyo (Akihabara) at the RVLab from 2006-2016. Since the opening of her Art Space SYZYGY in Tokyo (Sanbancho) in 2019, Sano has been choreographing/performing solo dance works in collaboration with pianists and singers.
Watch Mary Sano in “Spark” on KQED