Since Korean-born performance artist Dohee Lee’s arrival to the Bay Area in 2002, she’s been a force on the traditional and contemporary performing arts scenes — from her work with the Korean Youth Cultural Center to collaborating with experimental dance pioneer Anna Halprin and performing with Kronos Quartet.
The 42-year-old native of South Korea’s Jeju Island has also been a vital connector for other struggling immigrant and refugee communities. “Even though we are all different people from different countries, coming here to build new home and community, and everything as a human being, is the same,” says Lee.
In Korea, Lee studied traditional dance and music rooted in ancient Shamanistic ritual. When Lee toured the Bay Area as a guest performer in 2000, she was captivated by the freedom and spirit of experimentation she felt here, and two years later decided to emigrate here. Today her work often incorporates improvised movement, electronic music and video projections, creating an amalgam of old and new. “I’m reaching for an unknown place, while respecting my history,” says Lee.
For Ara Ritual II: Time Weaves, staged at Eastside Cultural Center in Oakland earlier this year, Lee partnered with the Bay Area Bhutanese Youth group and the immigrant and refugee artists collective CoRazOn. In a series of workshops Lee organized and led, participants explored through movement, drawing and singing how home connects to the physical body, land and ocean. “My experience working with Dohee has been very empowering and a deep healing process,” says Robin Gurung, a refugee from Bhutan. “It has helped me find my voice.”