There are millions of narratives about “the journey”. Tales of war and chaos, of love and longing, of fear and hate. Tales of myriad forces that uproot so many of us from our homelands and blow us far across the world to settle in foreign shores. Tales that speak of our human race’s overpowering will to survive.
Dancer, musician and vocalist Dohee Lee, incorporated some of these narratives in her multidisciplinary performance piece – Puri 5: SPoRA, that premiered at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center last Saturday as part of the center’s fall fundraising extravaganza. Based on Lee and her co-artists’ (Hiroyuki Jimi Nakagawa, Van-Anh Vanessa Vo and Adria Otte’s) personal experiences as Korean, Vietnamese and Japanese first-generation immigrants, the 90-minute long performance explored shared stories of immigration, war histories and the Asian diaspora through a compelling mix of music, song, dance and the spoken word.
Puri is a Korean word that refers to the releasing of suppressed feelings and emotions. Lee’s previous cycles of Puri (1 to 4) focused on the Korean War, sexual slavery and Korean mythology.
In Puri 5, the opening set turned the auditorium into an airport terminal with performers navigating their way around the audience tables, dragging suitcases behind them, checking flight timings and calling out to each other. This segued neatly into an intriguing acapella solo by Lee that used the dandelion seed (spora) as a journey metaphor and spoke of dreams and passports and Asian women waiting in line in Hawaii clutching photographs of strangers who would soon be their husbands.
The rest of the performance comprised a mix of drumming duets, dance and violin solos, ensemble collages on traditional instruments, like the Vietnamese dan tranh zither, dan t’rung or bamboo xylophone (Vanessa Vo) and Japanese taiko drums (Nakagawa) and a delightfully choreographed piece by Lee and Jamaesori jamaesori.wordpress.com, a Korean women’s collective that uses traditional Korean drumming to support social justice movements.
Though intended immigration narrative didn’t quite hold through the entire performance, it didn’t really matter. In the end, the music, especially the drums, ruled.