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Lenora Lee

The Project

The Escape Rescued Memories: New York Stories
by Lenora Lee Dance
with Kei Lun Martial Arts and Enshin Karate, South San Francisco Dojo
featuring media design by Olivia Ting, music by Francis Wong, text by poet Genny Lim, and videography directed by Tatsu Aoki, filmed by Ben Estabrook & Eric Koziol

The Escape & Rescued Memories: New York Stories are companion pieces inspired by stories of women who had become vulnerable upon arrival into the U.S. during the early 20th Century. The pieces seek to shed light on the experiences of these women in the context of the social history of the period for Chinese in America as well as for women in the society as a whole with the struggles and achievements of the 20th Century Women’s Movement, which took on such issues as child labor and human trafficking.

The multimedia projection in The Escape highlights a site-specific re-creation of experiences in Cameron House, a historic five-story building in San Francisco Chinatown from the period explored in the work.  From its founding as the Mission Home for Girls in 1874 until the 1930s, Cameron House assisted over 2,000 women who sought shelter, education, and opportunities, or sought refuge from forced domestic labor or servitude. These women came through Cameron House to recover their lives and realize positive contributions to the community and society.

Rescued Memories: New York Stories is inspired by stories of women who sought shelter from human trafficking in missions in New York Chinatown in the early 20th Century. These missions provided women refuge from forced domestic labor or servitude during period of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943).

Of particular importance in the work will be to provide insight into the role of community institutions and practices initiated in the era of Exclusion in creating the social infrastructure for Chinese in America to effectively challenge the dangerous environment they lived in and build a lasting, healthy community. These pieces will connect these historic institutions with today’s fabric of organizations and individuals that are on the front line of the continuing struggle against the exploitation of women in our communities.

Lenora Lee

Lenora Lee has been a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director for the past fourteen years in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. Her training is diverse and includes a Bachelor of Arts degree in dance, performance and choreography from UCLA, experiences as a taiko (Japanese drumming) performer with the celebrated San Francisco ensemble Genryu Arts (2001-2004), and martial arts, both karate (Enshin Karate, South San Francisco Dojo 2009–present) and Chinese forms (Kei Lun Martial Arts 2009–present). She has pursued private study in dance composition, contact improvisation, Afro-Brazilian Dance, ballet, modern dance, and other forms of dance as well. Her work integrates these various approaches to tell stories that shed light on social issues and give voice to experiences of Asian American communities. Lee is also an experienced arts administrator, having served as the managing director of Asian American Dance Performances (AADP). She is currently the project manager for the organization Asian Improv aRts.

Lee’s projects have been sponsored by the Greater New York Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, administered by the Brooklyn Arts Council, Inc. (BAC); Mulberry Street Theater’s Ear to the Ground commissioning with generous support from the Jerome Foundation; CounterPULSE Artist Residency Commissioning Program; Lighting Artist in Dance Award, a program of Dancers’ Group; CA$H, a grants program administered by Theatre Bay Area in partnership with Dancers’ Group; Zellerbach Family Foundation; Meet the Composer; Puffin Foundation; Performing Arts Assistance Program; Asian Improv aRts; Chinese Historical Society of America Museum; Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation; Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center; Cameron House; Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York Universit; Museum of Chinese in America (NY); and by generous individuals.

The Collaborating Partners

The Escape & Rescued Memories: New York Stories are being developed through the support of Asian Improv aRts (lead organization), API Cultural Center, Chinese Historical Society of America Museum, Cameron House, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, Asian Women’s Shelter, Asian Anti-Trafficking Collaborative, San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, and New York Asian Women’s Center.  They are also being supported by Zellerbach Family Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission, WKK Donor-Advised Fund, San Francisco Foundation, Asian Women Giving Circle, and Individual Donors.

Since its founding in 1963, the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum (CHSA) (lead organziation) has been the preeminent authority on and custodian of the Chinese American historical narrative. Through its publications, public programs, exhibits, and artifacts displayed in its museum, the former YWCA building on Clay Street designed by Julia Morgan, CHSA promotes and advocates for the history of social justice activism and the broad contributions to American society by Chinese Americans.

Founded in 1987, Asian Improv aRts (AIR) (producing and presenting organization) has produced, presented and documented artistic works representing the Asian American experience. As a non-profit multidisciplinary arts presenter, it has produced high quality arts and cultural events for 24 years in the San Francisco Bay Area in community-based and major venues such as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (with Dohee Lee’s FLUX), Great American Music Hall (with SFJazz), and Zellerbach Playhouse (Cal Performances), as well as various venues outside the Bay Area. AIR pursues a strategy of collaboration between artists, community resources, and mainstream institutions to create cultural and educational programming that brings together diverse sectors across generational, cultural and social experiences.

Donaldina Cameron House is a Chinatown-based agency serving Asian communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Motivated by its Christian commitment to promote healthy communities, CH has served individuals, immigrant families, and youth since 1874.

Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center supports and produces multi-disciplinary art reflective of the unique experiences of Asian Pacific Islanders living in the United States.


This project has been generously funded by the James Irvine Foundation's Innovation Fund and the Institute of Museum and Library Services/Museums for America. Additional support is provided by the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, San Francisco Arts Commission, WKK Donor-Advised Fun, San Francisco Foundation, CA$H, a grant program administered by Theatre Bay Area in partnership with Dancers' Group, Zellerbach Family Foundation, the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University, Asian Women Giving Circle, and generous individuals.

Photos of the artist on Flickr