A short time after Paul Taylor Dance Company founding member Sharon Kinney left Taylor’s company and had her first child, a son, she got a call for work. Calling was Yuriko (1920-2022), the great, fleeting exponent, and leading light, of Martha Graham Dance Company. It was the late sixties, and the Japanese-American dancer, transitioning from her exceptional dancing for Graham, sequed into creating her own works. “She had her own company from ‘64 to 71,” Kinney said. Learning that Kinney had essentially retired to motherhood, the soft-spoken Yuriko insisted, “Sharon, you have to keep dancing.”
Advice taken. “I was dancing with her around 1968,” said Kinney. For a brand-new mother to get “back on the horse” so quickly was outside the norm—both in the Taylor circle and in Graham’s. Female dancers who chose to pursue balanced lives as women beyond the dance nunnery were pushing it. Marriage, well, okay. Having children? Game over.
“She was very supportive of me as a woman to keep dancing,” recalled Kinney with fondness and feeling, learning of Yuriko’s death this week, on March 8. Kinney continued, “Society did not support that. “
Nannies, babysitters, au-pair girls, forget it. For downtown bohemians living at subsistence levels—off the grid—no one could afford such luxuries. So childcare fell to the woman. “I told her I didn’t have a baby sitter,” said Kinney, “So, Yuriko told me to bring my son to rehearsals. And I did it!” This, too, was not a thing to do at the time. “Josh would be in a little playpen area.” What a special memory–and Sharon credited Yuriko for making it happen.
“Clive Thompson was dancing in the company then,” Kinney recalled. “Clive would go leaping across the floor, he would pick up Josh and would lift him, and swoop him around in a big arc. Josh loved that.”
Speaking after a Zoom Pilates mat class, Kinney said, “You will read in [Wendy Perron’s] obituary in Dance Magazine that she was a seamstress.” Picking up the jewelry bag pictured above, Kinney said with a tremor of emotion, “This bag was a gift from Yuriko. But I had yet another one that she made by hand. It was red, gold, and black, and I cannot find it, but it was 55 years ago! It was lined in satin, with pockets,” she remembered. Then Kinney cried out, “Yuriko lived to 102!”
“I went out on a little tour with her and left the baby at home. You didn’t do that in those days … but I had a friend and my husband and anyway …,” said Kinney, her voice trailing off. Re-calibrating, she said, “It was just a positive thing to do then… Yuriko exuded life and support.”
Prior to that experience, said Kinney, “I danced in The King and I at City Center when she re-“staged it. Jerome Robbins had put her in as “Eliza” and then, after that, he brought her in to teach the ballet interlude in the musical. [Thereafter, Yuriko staged the entire musical.] I went to the audition. Everyone was going to auditions—if you weren’t in a [dance] company and even if you were, if the company was on a break. So I went to the audition.
“I was 5’5″ at the time. It was in 1963. We had to stand in line. There were the tall girls, and the short[er] girls. Well, the tall girls had a better part, so I stretched [myself] up….. And I made it! I was the shortest of the tall girls.”
“Yuriko was tiny, she was short, she had the pony tail, the long hair. When I was with Paul, he was very down on the floor, and we were all over the place, working on “Aureole.” With Yuriko, you came into the studio, and we all sat in a circle on the floor, she had this big chiffon scarf spread on the floor. She would lift up the chiffon scarf, and waft it around and say [various cosmic words]. I loved what Paul did, but I loved that too. It was the feminine, She would waft it around, and I loved it.”
In 2018, Sharon Kinney, an original member of Paul Taylor Dance Company, reminisced about the creation of Paul Taylor’s “Aureole,” and dancing the work with Taylor. She lives in Los Angeles.