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Lenora Lee Dance’s ‘Eye of Compassion’ a reflective adventure

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Wei-Shan Lai, left, and SanSan Kwan dance in “The Eye of Compassion” at Donaldina Cameron House in Chinatown. (Courtesy Robbie Sweeny)

Six dynamic performers lead viewers on a meditative, historical and beautiful journey in choreographer Lenora Lee’s “The Eye of Compassion.”

The multimedia and interactive contemporary dance, which premiered over the weekend, fills the Donaldina Cameron House, a gorgeous old San Francisco Chinatown building (founded as a Presbyterian Church in 1874), today the home of social services agency for Asian and Asian-American communities.

Patrons follow the energetic dancers as they weave throughout the structure on several levels, inside and out, in the nonstop 65-minute piece, which loosely pays tribute to the original mission of work in the building: to help vulnerable young women who were smuggled into U.S., often sold into slavery, when they were unable to enter legally under the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The piece starts dramatically, as two women gather up long swaths of white fabric bisecting the wood floor in the main level multipurpose room, and place it into laundry baskets.

In the next scene, set to a recording of police urgently searching for girls, the dancers (four women, two men) run outside, across the street, into a parking lot, where they’re struggling and resisting. Meanwhile, a film projected on the back of a building shows dancers in similar moves. It’s scary, and effective.

Back inside, the dancers split up, taking sections of the audience to bedrooms upstairs (one dancer picked up a Bible on a bed) or study rooms (two girls read English-Chinese workbooks to jazzy saxophone), in what amounts to an individual, unique experience for each patron.

A lovely, balletic interlude back in the main room features all of the dancers– Peter Cheng, Yao Dang, Christian Felix, Yi-Ting Hsu, SanSan Kwan and Chloe Luo – as does the finale, which is set outside, on the upper level basketball court. Video, of the dancers swimming, projected on the wall of the adjacent building, complements the action.

Modern music – ranging from stark string and percussion sounds to more animated saxophone – is by Francis Wong, Melody Takata, Kioto Aoki, Jonathan Chen, Ari Brown and Tatsu Aoki, who co-directed the films with Lee.

At the outset, choreographer Lee opened the evening with a personal note, mentioning her own experiences at Friday night youth programs in the building. It was a fitting introduction to the work, which clearly lives up to her objective: to make “large-scale, multimedia dance performances that connect various styles of movement and music to culture, history and human rights issues.”

The Eye of Compassion
Presented by Lenora Lee Dance
Where: Donaldina Cameron House, 920 Sacramento St., S.F.
When: 7:30 and 9 p.m. Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2
Tickets: $20 to $35
Contact: www.LenoraLeeDance.com

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