Within These Walls

by Lenora Lee Dance

Background image: Noah Ryang in "Within These Walls"
Image credit:
Photo by Robbie Sweeny

Re-staged with student performers for Berkeley Dance Project 2023

Presented as part of A Year On Angel Island

February 23–26 at Zellerbach Playhouse

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Serving as a meditation on healing, resilience, and compassion, Within These Walls is dedicated to the more than 170,000 Chinese immigrants who were processed, detained, and/or interrogated at the Angel Island Immigration Station between 1910 and 1940. Resulting from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, this period of mass incarceration tore families apart and will forever be stamped on the Chinese American experience.

The Angel Island Immigration Station functioned as the West Coast equivalent of Ellis Island, although the Angel Island facility also enforced policies designed to exclude, rather than welcome, many Pacific Coast immigrants coming from 82 countries. The processing time for most at the Station was two to three days. However, for Chinese people, the average was three weeks to three months of detention. One individual spent 22 months in detention.

In 1970, the Immigration Station was slated for demolition due to its deteriorated condition, but the discovery of Chinese poetry carved into the walls of the detention barracks saved it from destruction and led to renewed interest in the site. Consequently, community members became increasingly aware of the need to access the vivid lessons of sacrifice and triumph in the history of immigration. As a result of a broad advocacy campaign, funding was secured to preserve the site and to open the barracks to the public in 1983. Out of the community campaign, the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) was founded to continue preservation and educational efforts for the site, and to increase awareness of the contributions made by Pacific Coast immigrants.

Poems carved into the walls of detention barracks at the Angel Island Immigration Station

Chinese poems carved into the walls of detention barracks at the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Dramaturgy Note

by Crystal Song

One week into rehearsals for this re-staging of Within These Walls, our cast took a field trip to the Angel Island Immigration Station. Given the site-specific nature of the original work, it only made sense for this trip to take place so early in the creative process, and we walked the grounds as a group as our docent recounted the Station’s history. While the sparseness of the barracks was arresting—it’s hard to imagine several hundred people sharing them at any given time—I was most struck by the other physical remnants of its use, between 1910 and 1940, as a detention center for new arrivals to the country. Of the estimated one million immigrants whose fates were determined at Angel Island, over 170,000 were from China, and thus detained under the harsh terms of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. They were subjected to humiliating medical exams, grueling interrogations, and weeks or months—even years—of waiting. Scattered throughout the station, on display, are some of the means by which they passed and shared their time: books and newspapers, games like go and mahjong, musical records and instruments. Most famously, the walls themselves—covered in poems carved by the detainees, rediscovered and painstakingly restored during the 1970s—stand as testament to the profound grief and inertia that defined their experience at Angel Island.

In the weeks to come, we would read these poems to each other in rehearsal. Like seeing them engraved in person, sharing them out loud brought a sort of body to a history that we could only otherwise access through written words. Translator Jeffrey Thomas Leong, who worked with these poems, described them as simultaneously “anonymous” and “collective.” Expressions of loneliness, longing, and bitter disappointment, these were “personal utterances but in a public collective form.” Within These Walls is likewise at once a personal and collective endeavor, showcasing the strength and artistry of each dancer as well as the force of their movement in tandem. In staging the stories of those detained at Angel Island, it urges us to take part in an intimate yet public reckoning with the ongoing history of anti-Asian racism.

As part of the rehearsal process, we held several discussions about this history, and how it shaped our understanding of the production’s significance. We couldn’t not be aware of the connections between the era of Angel Island and our own, which has seen a sickening rise in violent attacks on people of Asian descent. In all of this, what does dance do? We also read from Charles Yu’s 2020 novel Interior Chinatown, which offers melancholic satire on the promise and pitfalls of Asian American representation through performance: “Take what you can get. Try to build a life. A life at the margin made from bit parts.” What does it mean for us, as dancers, to take up the legacy of life at the margin? What work does Within These Walls do, putting Asian American stories and performers at center stage? In what ways does it animate that legacy, or allow for a different relationship to it? Is it possible, we asked, to restore some sort of agency to those detained at Angel Island, or at least do justice to the injustices done to them?

To dance history is not to “represent” the past in some straightforward way; indeed, the past itself is not some static thing that can be known in full or remade without consequence. It is interpretive work, to take written text—refracted through the oppressive lens of official records, or fragmented and necessarily secretive or obscured—and make embodied movement. Within These Walls invites us to bear witness, in real time, to the shock and heartbreak of someone dropping to their knees as they are condemned to deportation; to the uncertain thrill of detainees resisting, in small gestures, the station’s daily attempts to corral their bodies and minds. It honors the forms of subterfuge through which they struggled to survive in a hostile country, and it holds space for moments of immense tenderness and care. Most concretely, it reminds us that this history exists, and that the people whose lives were indelibly shaped by it—now just names and numbers on a page or words on a wall—had dreams and desires and convictions of their own. My hope is that sharing in the presence of these performers, and all of the creative hands that shaped this work, will drive home for you the importance of Angel Island’s history and its ongoing afterlives. In bringing us together, it instructs us in the all too vital—the personal and collective—task of remembrance.

Documentary Video

WITHIN THESE WALLS - Conversations with creative collaborators and dancers of the next generation

Production Credits



羅凱俠 Law Oy Hup played by Cristopher Avila

冷靜 Lang Jing played by Kimberly Fong

甯夏 Ling Ha played by Jingwen (Caitlin) Han

黃拱照 Wong Gung Jue played by Teo Lin-Bianco

曉遙 Hieu Yieu played by Emma Lowe

垚胤 Yieu Yun played by Noah Ryang

許鴻基 Huey Hung Gay played by Jiho Seo

李威 Lei Wai played by Eika Tokunaga

李聘桃 Lee Ping To played by Erin Yoon


関珊珊 Missionary Gwan played by Victoria Amador

陳曉林 Interpreter Chan played by Verena Lee

Inspector Bennington played by Gilberto Martinez Martinez

Dr. John Williams played by Liam Quinn

黃曉林 Interpreter Wong played by Tatianna Steiner

Lenora Lee Dance Cast (2017 & 2019)

George Cheng, Derek Harris, Yi-Ting (Gama) Hsu, Lynn Huang, Hien Huynh, Carl Irons, SanSan Kwan, Wei-Shan Lai, Chloe Luo, Johnny Nguyen, Dalmacio Payomo, and Alley Wilde, with contributions from 2017 cast members Yao Dang, Timothy Huey, Eric Koziol, Wayne Tai Lee, Kevin Lo, Shannon Preto, and Stacey Yuen

Creative Team

Conceived, Produced & Directed by 
Lenora Lee

Choreographed by
Lenora Lee
in collaboration with
The Lenora Lee Dance Cast (2017 /  2019)
& The Berkeley Dance Project Cast (2022/2023)

Stage Manager
Keanu Marquez

Costume Designer
Wendy Sparks

Production Coordinator
SanSan Kwan

Lighting Designer
Ray Oppenheimer

Scenic Designer
Peet Cocke

Projection Designer
Olivia Ting

Original Score by
Francis Wong & Tatsu Aoki

with Kioto Aoki, JoVia Armstrong, Rami Atassi, Mwata Bowden, Jonathan Chen, Suwan Choi, Deszon X. Claiborne, Coco Elysses, Jason Kao Hwang, Michael Jamanis, Jamie Kempkers, Chad Taylor, Edward Wilkerson Jr, Michael Zerang

Poetry & Text
Genny Lim & Wong Gung Jue

Lynn Huang, Hien Huynh, Johnny Huy Nguyen & Shannon Preto

Production Team

Rehearsal Assistants
Lynn Huang
SanSan Kwan
Johnny Huy Nguyen
Lucy Tafler

Assistant Stage Manager / Production Coordinator
Hazel Horton

Crystal Song

Assistant scenic Designer / Calligrapher
Shin Yang

Assistant Costume Designers
Ace Chen
Abhiraj Muhar

Light Board Operators
Audrey Lee-Gardner
Riley Richardson

Sound Technician
Emily Fassler

Sound & Video Board Operators
Gibran Mustafa
Amelia Patterson
Nick Reulbach

Deck Crew
Sohel Bagai
Callista Crabtree
Eugeniu Cuznetov
Kimi Galang Villegas

Wardrobe Crew
Hannah Barukh
Jasmine Cevallos
Leonora Sanchez

Scenic Work-Study Assistant
Lev Collins

Costume Work-Study Assistants
Amanda Hayami
Jennifer Hernandez
Cara Maccianti
Autumn Peak
Tessa Schaap
Tiffany Stratton

Electrics Installation & Focus
Students of Theater 175B

Tatsu Aoki (editing)
Ben Estabrook (camera & editing)
Lenora Lee (camera & editing)
Shannon Preto (camera)
Olivia Ting (camera & editing)
Joel Wanek (camera & editing)

Robbie Sweeny

Front of House & Box Office Staff
Provided by Cal Performances

Cast Bios

Portrait of Victoria Amador

Victoria Amador (she/her)

Victoria is a 1st-gen, Chicana, 4th year transfer currently attending UC Berkeley. She is majoring in Psychology with a Dance and Performance Studies minor. Victoria has been dancing since she was 5 years old, is trained in many dance genres, and still continues to explore movement. She plans to continue to dance for as long as she is able and hopes that she can keep dance a diverse, inclusive, and body-positive environment. Finally, she hopes you can enjoy and learn from the show! Instagram: a.victoria99

Portrait of Cristopher Avila

Cristopher Avila (he/they)

Cristopher is a 1st-gen queer Latino sophomore majoring in Media studies as well as Theater and Performance studies. They have been dancing, performing and choreographing for 4+ years and they continue to improve their craft and expand their skills by participating in performances and dancing on their own. He hopes to start his own dance company to share his love for performing as well as perform in other spaces such as in theatre. One of their main beliefs is that no matter what your identity is, you will always have the power to perform. Instagram: stargaloree

Portrait of Kimberly Fong

Kimberly Fong (she/her)

Kimberly is a sophomore majoring in Landscape Architecture. Growing up, she trained in mostly ballet and competitive dance, but has transitioned to modern dance since coming to college. She is grateful for the opportunity to explore her Chinese Korean American identity through movement and share the stories of previous Chinese immigrants through this piece. Instagram: kimberly.fong

Portrait of Jingwen Han

Jingwen Han (she/her)

Jingwen is a dance major at UC Berkeley. Also an international student from China. Jingwen Han has 13 years of dance experience. She is good at choreography, Chinese classical dance and dances of seven different ethnic groups in China. In the United States, I studied modern dance, ballet, and jazz dance. She is currently trying to explore new choreographic directions. Her choreography works include ImmortalAre you truly free?, and Deep roots. Instagram: ca.itlin982

Portrait of Verena Lee

Verena Lee (she/her)

Verena is a junior studying Dance and Performance Studies. She has a background of mostly modern and contemporary, but has experience with other western dance forms, R&B movement, Chinese Lion Dance, Balinese Dance, Taekwondo, Taiji, and Wushu. Outside of dancing, she loves singing, playing music, and biking.

Portrait of Teo Lin-Bianco

Teo Lin-Bianco (he/him)

Teo is a Junior at UC Berkeley studying environmental economics and dance. Both of his parents were dancers, so he has been learning tap, jazz, and open from a young age. His family on his father's side also immigrated from Hong Kong through Angel Island. Instagram: wokunaga

Portrait of Emma Lowe

Emma Lowe (they/she)

A Bay Area native, Emma is a sophomore majoring in Conservation and Resource Studies and minoring in Dance. After doing competitive gymnastics through grade school, they immersed themselves in the Bay's thriving street dance scene. They are interested in the connections and intersections between street and concert dance. Instagram: emzalowe21

Portrait of Gilberto Martinez Martinez

Gilberto Martinez Martinez (he/them)

Gilberto is a Chicano Queer male-identifying artist. Born and raised in the Central Valley, he is a junior transfer majoring in Dance and Performance Studies, Chicanx Studies, and a minor in LGBT+ Studies. He has worked at a high school and collegiate level in choreography and administrative work producing a variety of shows with different dance genres. He hopes to inspire others to learn and love dance in their body. Instagram: sir_gils

Portrait of Liam Quinn

Liam Quinn (he/him)

Liam is a freshman from Pasadena, California and is currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Sciences with a minor in Dance and Performance Studies. He is new to the dance community and hopes to explore the multitude of classes/groups UC Berkeley has to offer. Before beginning to dance, Liam was also a cross country runner and competitive pole vaulter. Instagram: liam.quinn22

Portrait of Noah Ryang

Noah Ryang (he/him)

Noah is a sophomore majoring in media studies, and minoring in journalism and dance. He trained in ballet at the Ballet California school in Torrance, Los Angeles County. His favorite performances with Ballet California include The Nutcracker, and The Sleeping Beauty. Noah enjoys listening to R&B and reading. Instagram: noah_ryang

Portrait of Jiho Seo

Jiho Seo (he/him)

Jiho is an active, bright minded, and creative dancer. Currently a sophomore majoring in media studies. Going out of my comfort zone to be part of something great and exciting is one of my ways to express my emotions as a dancer. Have done martial arts for about 5 years in Korea learning the ways of balance and peace. In the meantime I enjoy swimming, sports and listening to music. Instagram: jihoseo1029

Portrait of Tatianna Steiner

Tatianna Steiner (she/her)

Born and raised in San Diego, Tatianna is a junior at UC Berkeley majoring in Dance and Performance Studies and Media Studies. She has been dancing from the age of 5, training in ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary and modern at her local dance studio. As she expanded her vocabulary as a dancer, she found her passion in modern and contemporary dance. When she isn't dancing or choreographing, she enjoys crocheting, hiking, and watching endless hours of the food network. Instagram: tatianna.st

Portrait of Eika Tokunaga

Eika Tokunaga (they/them)

Eika is a Bay Area based composer, taiko drummer, and aspiring dancer. Having studied Computer Science at Oberlin College and Conservatory, they are now the Systems and Technology Manager for the American Composers Forum. When they're not writing music or dancing, they enjoy pickleball, gardening, and making crafts.

Portrait of Erin Yoon

Erin Yoon (she/her)

Erin is a junior at UC Berkeley majoring in Dance and minoring in Theater. She has been dancing since she was 4 years old and studied Korean Traditional Dance at Seoul Arts High School in Korea. She also likes to dance in various genres, such as modern, jazz, and hip-hop. Instagram: erinyoon1216

Production Team Bios

Tatsu Aoki (Music & Videography) is a prolific composer, musician, filmmaker, and educator. Based in Chicago, Aoki works in a wide range of musical genres, ranging from traditional Japanese music, jazz, experimental and creative music. Aoki studied experimental filmmaking at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is currently an adjunct Full Professor at the Film, Video and New Media Department, teaching film production and history courses. To this date, Aoki has produced and appears in more than 90 recording projects and over 30 experimental films. TatsuAoki.com

Lynn Huang (Rehearsal Assistance) — Trained in modern dance, ballet, and Chinese dance, Lynn has performed with Lenora Lee, Cynthia Ling Lee, and Philein Wang, among others in San Francisco, and HT Chen and Dancers, Dance China NY and Ella Ben-Aharon/Sahar Javedani in NYC. She studied at Minzu University Dance Conservatory in Beijing, China on a Fulbright fellowship and graduated magna cum laude from Barnard College of Columbia University. She also teaches GYROTONIC​​® and GYROKINESIS®. Instagram: lynnxspirals

Lenora Lee (Artistic Direction & Choreography) has been a dancer, choreographer and artistic director for the past 25 years in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. She has been an Artist Fellow at the de Young Museum, a Djerassi Resident Artist, a Visiting Scholar at New York University 2012-2016, an Artist in Residence at Dance Mission Theater, a 2019 United States Artists Fellow, and is the recipient of a New England Foundation for the Arts National Dance Project grant award. Lenora is currently artist in residence at Pao Arts Center and ArtsEmerson.

Genny Lim (Poetry) is a poet, performer, playwright, educator and cultural activist who strives to express the uniqueness and universality of her experience as the child of immigrant Chinese through her artistic vision. Deeply engaged in the civil rights movement and the Asian American Rights movement, her work is informed by her commitment to social justice issues on many fronts.

SanSan Kwan (Production Coordination & Rehearsal Assistance) is professor and chair in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley, where she teaches dance technique and dance studies. She has danced with Lenora Lee Dance for over ten years. She has also performed with HT Chen and Maura Nguyen Donohue, among others.

Keanu Marquez (Stage Management) is a Theater and Performance major and a transfer student from Ventura. They have been participating in the world of theater since sophomore year of high school. His love of theater comes from the variety of arts, sciences, and philosophy required. One day he hopes to have many published works on stage, in your bookshelf, and on screen. Instagram: KeanuMilo

Johnny Huy Nguyễn (Rehearsal Assistance) — Fluent in multiple movement modalities including myriad street dance styles, contemporary, modern, and martial arts, Nguyen weaves together dance, theater, spoken word, ritual, installation, and performance art. In addition to being an individual artist, he has been a core member of Lenora Lee Dance Company since 2017 and has appeared in the works of KULARTS and the Global Street Dance Masquerade to name a few. he works as a development and program associate with Asian Improv aRts (AIR), helping to nurture the viability and sustainability of Asian American artists and organizations both locally and nationwide. JohnnyHuyNguyen.com

Crystal Song (Dramaturgy) is a PhD candidate in performance studies at UC Berkeley who researches Asian American dance and popular culture. When not working on her dissertation, she is a competitive ballroom dancer who also loves zouk, Lindy hop, and West Coast swing.

Olivia Ting (Media/Projection Design) is interested in the role of digital technology in the fabric of contemporary lives and how our perception of recorded media (film, photography, audio) as "reality" has shifted as technology becomes more sophisticated. Olivia has done design work for Oakland Museum of California, San Francisco Arts Commission, San Jose Children's Museum, and collaborated with various dance companies in the Bay Area. Her work shifts between video projection and altered 360 VR film experiences. She holds an MFA in Art Practice from U.C. Berkeley. OliveTinge.com

Francis Wong (Music Direction/Composition) was dubbed one of "the great saxophonists of his generation" by the late jazz critic Phil elwood. Few musicians are as accomplished as Wong: for over two decades he has performed his innovative brand of jazz and creative music for audiences in north America, Asia, and Europe. A prolific recording artist, Wong is featured on more than forty titles. FrancisWong.net

Dancer Hien Huyn wears gray pants, a red shirt, and brown Oxford shoes. He leaps several feet in the air from a gray table. In the background, we see more tables, the brown and tan barracks, and tall eucalyptus trees at the Angel Island detention center.

Hien Huyn in the 2017 production of Within These Walls at the Angel Island Immigration Station. (Photo by Robbie Sweeny)

About Lenora Lee Dance

Lenora Lee Dance (LLD) integrates contemporary dance, film, music, and research and has gained increasing attention for its sustained pursuit of issues related to immigration, incarceration, and global conflict. The company creates works that are set in public and private spaces, intimate and large-scale, inspired by individual stories as well as community strength, at times crafted for the proscenium or underwater, and at times site-responsive, immersive, and interactive. For 15 years LLD’s work has grown to encompass the creation and presentation of films, museum and gallery installations, civic engagement, and educational programming.

LLD’s dance films And the Community Will Rise and Within These Walls will have premiere screenings in Spring 2023. 

LLD’s 15th Anniversary Home Season will run September 21–24, 2023.

Learn more at LenoraLeeDance.com

Creation of the original Within These Walls was supported in part by Asian Improv aRts, Asian Improv aRts Midwest, API Cultural Center, Chinese Historical Society of America, California Arts Council, San Francisco Arts Commission, Zellerbach Family Foundation, Fleishhacker Foundation, San Francisco Grants for the Arts, Angel Island Company, Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, Dance Mission Theater, and generous individuals.

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