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Body language: Mother-daughter dance closes language barrier

Speaking through dance: Kristine Haruna Lee and her mother will take the stage at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange on Nov. 19 for their Butoh-style performance “Communing with You.”
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They’re using the universal language of dance.

A Ditmas Park performer is using a new theater piece to bridge her family’s generational — and linguistic — divide. Haruna Lee, who speaks very little Japanese, and her mom, Aoi Lee, who speaks very little English, will take the stage together for “Communing with You,” which combine the traditional Japanese dance-theater style known as Butoh with contemporary moves. The project, at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange in Park Slope on Nov. 19, has given the mother-daughter pair a new way to try communicate, said Lee.

“I thought maybe we could dig deeper and create a piece, and maybe figure out a way to communicate through this piece,” she said. “It’s difficult because of the language barrier but it’s exciting to talk beyond what we usually talk about, like what are we eating for dinner. Our conversations are entering this really deep kind of artistic world.”

During the 30-minute piece, the two will use movement and large images to explore their connection and their differences, said Lee, and she hopes the audience will appreciate the complex cultural identities that they bring to the stage.

“My mom is coming from this very iconic traditional Japanese form of dance and I consider myself Japanese, and yet I’m so immersed in my American identity. I’d be very excited for the audience to take away this duality of Japanese being represented in my mother and myself and also how the two of us deal with our American identities,” said Lee.

Butoh performers typically paint their bodies white and wear white kimonos, and Lee and her mother plan to give that tradition a pop culture spin, she said.

“We are going to figure out a hybrid contemporary version of that. I think my mom’s into some type of pop Butoh,” said Lee. “She’s been showing me videos of contemporary Japanese J-pop girls dancing.”

Lee and her mother have developed the piece during her residency at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange, which has offered space to artists for 25 years. It would not have existed without the organization’s help, said Lee.

“It’s been incredible. They are so flexible and they are so excited by the ideas that the artists bring to the table,” Lee said. “The way the residency is set up has really helped me to grow and I attribute that to how many years they’ve been around.”

“Communing With You” at Brooklyn Arts Exchange [421 Fifth Ave. at Eighth Street in Park Slope, (718) 832–0018, www.bax.org]. Nov. 19 at 4 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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