San Francisco choreographer Lenora Lee’s monumental aim for “Within These Walls,” her world-premiere, site-specific “multimedia dance experience” on Angel Island, is nothing short of pushing for the rights of every individual.
She and nearly two dozen collaborators created the piece, which runs this weekend and next, to recognize the 135th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), which restricted Chinese from entering the U.S. for decades.
Three of her four grandparents were among the 170,000 Chinese who emigrated (and were detained on the island), she says, to defy the law.
“Within These Walls,” a piece with 14 dancers, video, original recorded music and poetry, is dedicated to the people who were processed and interrogated at the Angel Island Immigration Station.
“Through the piece, we hope to convey the strength, hope and psychological resistance of Chinese communities across the country to the effects of unjust anti-immigration law and incarceration,” says Lee.
It’s also a timely statement against racism today, as rights of immigrants, women, children, the poor and minorities are being “heavily threatened,” adds Lee, whose contemporary troupe is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
“It is not enough to live our lives in the safety of our own experiences… as what we’ve known as our foundation can be taken away in the blink of an eye if we are not exercising our voices for justice, equality and compassion,” she says.
Lee, who has been dancing since age 4, and majored in dance at University of California, Los Angeles (after switching from biochemistry), works collaboratively with her performers, who have backgrounds in martial arts, modern, breakdance, hip hop, Chinese dance, ballet and improvisation.
Their movement diversity, she says, is beautiful, adding breadth and complexity to “Within These Walls,” which takes place in, around and outside rooms in the historic, two-story Immigration Station building.
Of all of the works Lee has made — she also addressed historical struggles faced by Chinese immigrants in San Francisco in 2016’s “The Eye of Compassion” — “Within These Walls” has the largest cast and scope.
It’s special, Lee says, because it takes place at a site of considerable significance; most Bay Area Chinese Americans have ancestors who went to Angel Island.
It’s also been a logistical challenge, in part due to the added time it takes for the ferry ride to the site.
Pointing out that many native San Franciscans have not been to the Immigration Station, Lee says, “We hope folks can make the journey out as a day trip to the island. It will be worth the experience.”
IF YOU GO
Within These Walls
Presented by Lenora Lee Dance
Where: Angel Island Immigration Station, Angel Island
When: 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sept. 9-10, Sept. 16-17
Tickets: $25 to $55, plus separate ferry ticket
Note: For information about ferry transit and ticketing, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/within-these-walls-tickets-36488901286