Telling a story about human trafficking in her latest piece, The Escape, Lenora Lee wanted people to understand how the women endure much more than physical abuse.
"Some people say, 'If it's slavery, where are the cage and chains?'" she said. "I saw someone talk about it recently, and he said, 'It is a cage around your mind.' These people have really strong psychological and emotional holds on these women, who are coerced and threatened."
For Lee, a choreographer and dancer whose last two pieces have dealt with the Chinese Exclusion Act and violence among Chinese men, it makes perfect sense to use dance, integrated with text, film and martial arts, to explore a subject as serious as human trafficking. In fact, she thinks through dance people can understand it more immediately.
"You can listen to a lecture about it, but that's not the same seeing somebody embody a topic and dance about being raped," she said.
Lee grew up in Chinatown, and she went to programs at the historic Cameron House, which has provided support for Asian women and their families for more than 100 years. But she didn't know that the organization had helped women who were being trafficked in the early 1900s. She did research there, looking through the organization's archives to find these women's stories. To find out about present day trafficking, she spoke to legal advocates for the women as well as staff at shelters and officers in the San Francisco Police Department.
Lee says the trade has become more widespread and more sophisticated and she said the huge injustice she found in her research made her want to tell these stories through her work.
"I think dance, like any art form, has the potential to be transformative," she said. "It can provide hope and insight and enlightenment."
Below is a video from the San Francisco premiere of Lee's Reflections.