Dancing an Immigrant Experience

The second of Dohee Lee’s trilogy comes to Richmond.


Dohee Lee’s arresting "ARA Ritual I: Waterways" feels more like a communal ritual than a live performance.

Courtesy of Pak Han

In her latest creation, ARA Ritual I: Waterways, Korean-born and trained Dohee Lee vocalizes from deep in her chest to coloratura heights. She creates a live electronically modified banjo score. She whirls like a dervish in trance and taps out flamenco’s commanding beats. As a performer in her own and other people’s works, Lee mesmerizes, but she also creates multidisciplinary works that overflow with marvelously realized theatrical details that pull you in by their sheer sensory appeal. Lee works from a strong commitment to live performance as a form of communal ritual. She wants to pull us into reality beyond our self-centered lives, even if it is for just an hour or so only.

As an immigrant herself, she feels the ambivalence many of them experience: a mixture of gratitude and confusion, a sense of loss and lack of direction. Questions like why are we here? Where are we going? What is this country about? What are its stories, its nursery rhymes and songs and dances? Soldiers often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; deracinated immigrants often go through similar processes about a haunting past and losses that cannot be replaced.

ARA is the second of an upcoming trilogy. Mago was inspired by Korea’s creator goddess mythology; it explored the connection between dreams and reality, the past and the present, karma and destiny. Lee developed ARA, which will be shown at Richmond’s East Bay Center for the Arts, in collaboration with CoRazOn, Oakland’s collective of immigrant refugees, and a group of Bay Area’s Bhutanese Youth. ARA is the Korean goddess whose tears flow to the earth and create water that then evaporates back into the heavens to create the stars. Each of the stars talks about an individual life. It is a ritual performance, Lee has said, about “sadness, love, desperation, and hope.”

ARA Ritual I: Waterways, Jan. 20-21, 8 p.m., $15, $10 seniors and students $10, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, 339, 11th St., Richmond, 510-234-5624.


This report appears in the January edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.


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