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Monday, February 13, 2012

Meet Our Masterminds: Dohee Lee and Michelle Tholen

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 at 8:30 AM


The economy sucks, but we don't care -- the Bay Area is home to artists so talented they deserve to take over the world. That's why the Masterminds grants are given to three local and emerging artists who need that little push to become even more awesome.

SF Weekly has narrowed down the potential winners to 10 finalists, with the three winners being chosen Feb. 16. at Public Works during Artopia. Until then we're going to fall in love with their creative work all over again by featuring the profiles (written by our arts critic Jonathan Curiel) of two finalists each day right up until the event. Today, meet Dohee Lee and Michelle Tholen:

Dohee Lee: The Evocative Dancer

Dohee Lee in GaNADa
  • Dohee Lee in GaNADa

A hat made of suitcases that open up. A giant mask of a woman's face with cheeks that bulge out like balloons. Dance moves that stampede across the stage but also decelerates to a pace that seems like slow motion. When Dohee Lee performs these dances inspired by Korean and Western traditions, it's impossible to take your eyes off her. Even people who know nothing about Korea's music and dance traditions are taken in by the unique visual touches, music, and movement that Lee creates. Her dance is cinematic. It's also shamanic -- an homage to spirits and past lives that come alive in her hand gestures, costumes, and leaps from one spot to the next. This blend of modern and ancient, of West and East, inspires much of the Oakland resident's work, including her series called "Mago," named for a mother-goddess of Korean mythology but steeped in Lee's personal story.

Born on Jeju Island in South Korea, where shamanic tradition is popular, Lee has danced professionally since 1996. She has a master's in Korean traditional music and dance from Korea's Yong-in University. "It's about interconnectedness," Lee says of "Mago." "It's about birth, self-discovery, confrontation, action, and re-birth." At Lee's performances, the music that she composes -- full of beautifully dissonant notes (think Kronos Quartet and Philip Glass) -- is enough to draw in audiences. In fact, Lee has sung with the Kronos Quartet. She has also presented her work at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Carnegie Hall in New York, and has received grants from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts. "I always think I'm emerging as an artist," she says. "I'm always developing work that I can do much better."

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