‘Martha Graham’ Dancer, Susan Kikuchi, dies at aged 74

Susan Kikuchi passed away on November 14 in Manhattan. She was a former dancer in Martha Graham’s company and was well-known both domestically and abroad for her superb stagings of Graham’s dances and her revivals of the Jerome Robbins musical “The King and I.” She was 74.

Her husband, Eric Kivnick, only stated that she passed away suddenly and naturally.

I fell into it, Ms. Kikuchi would say when asked how she got into dancing. It was a condensed way of saying that her mother was Yuriko, a well-known dancer, and instructor for the Graham company. (Yuriko passed away in March at 102.)

Since she was a young girl, Ms. Kikuchi had observed her mother’s performances, lessons, and practice sessions with Graham dancers. She was still a child when she started to watch the “The King and I” rehearsals after Robbins cast Yuriko as the star of the dance sequences in the original production of the musical in 1951.

Martha Graham Dance Company

Ms. Kikuchi represented “the scaffolding” of the Graham heritage, according to Janet Eilber, the current artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company, as someone who had undergone particular training for staging Graham’s choreography.

“She knew every move, from the elbow on,” she added. “She had such a depth of information. And she had the brain to show dancers how the physicality of the movement and its message came together.”

In recent years Ms. Kikuchi was the prime stager of “Panorama,” a dynamic social-protest work that Graham created for her students in the 1930s. Today it is performed by nonprofessional students in schools “from Arizona to Long Island,” Ms. Eilber said.

Ms. Kikuchi also organized, directed, or choreographed 15 renditions of “The King And I” over the years, including one that was performed in the round at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Yuriko was cast by Robbins in the original production of “The King and I” to play the part of runaway slave Eliza in “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” a faux-naf dance adaptation of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that is presented to King Mongkut of Siam during the course of the musical. Ms. Kikuchi and her brother Lawrence both performed in the musical when they were young. She portrayed Eliza and other characters as an adult.

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She is survived by her brother and daughter, Cassey Kikuchi Kivnick, in addition to her husband.

Susan Kikuchi’s early life.

On October 4, 1948, Susan Lynn Kikuchi was born in Brooklyn to her parents Charles and Yuriko (Amemiya) Kikuchi. After being liberated from different federal internment camps where Americans of Japanese descent were held during World War II, her parents met in New York City.

Susan Kikuchi Family

The Kikuchi Diary: Chronicle From an American Concentration Camp, a memoir by Mr. Kikuchi, a psychiatric social worker, details his experiences. In 1944, Yuriko, who had training in modern dance, joined Graham’s company. Graham passed away in 1991.

Susan Kikuchi’s husband and children.

Susan Kikuchi was married to her husband Eric Kivnick. The couple has a daughter named, Cassey Kikuchi Kivnick.