San Francisco dance troupe bears witness to history of human trafficking

Lenora Lee, the artistic director of her dance company Lenora Lee Dance, creates large-scale interdisciplinary choreography that combine video projection, martial arts, music and text to talk about culture, history and human rights issues. Video produced by Joel Wanek, KQED

Two dancers hold on to a long wooden pole, battling on stage in front of a video projection of a man holding a child. A voice echos “The lady took me to see a man. I had to cook and clean for him all these years. Now, I am sold again to another man.” It’s a section of a dance called “The Escape,” created by Lenora Lee.

Lee is a dancer and choreographer and the artistic director of Lenora Lee Dance. Her large-scale interdisciplinary works combine dance, video projection, martial arts, music and text that connect various styles of movement to culture, history and human rights issues.

“We share through the dance, through our movement, through the text and through the video and layer one upon the other so that it’s really about creating this environment and this world for people,” said Lee.


Dancers practice the duet with the long wooden pole.

For “The Escape,” she conducted research into the lives of young women and girls who were brought to the U.S. and forced into servitude and prostitution. After her research, she formed “scenarios in her mind,” but she also asked her dancers to contribute their own history to the choreography.

“I asked the dancers to write about their own experience of injustice, their own experiences of loss and of seeking beauty, seeking hope and of transformation … so we actually used that as a foundation to generate movement,” said Lee. “I’m in performance to share experiences in a very genuine, intuitive honest way and to be able to talk about issues through the work.

In this episode of Art School, tag along as Lee and her dancers prepare for a series of performances at Asia Society in New York City. Hear about the genesis of her current multimedia performances and the impact the local Chinese community has had on her artistic practice.

Local Beat is a weekly series on Art Beat that features arts and culture stories from PBS member stations around the nation.

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