she smashed the enclosure follows the conscience of Gwai Ying, a Chinese woman who was brought to the U.S. from China in 1933 and sold into prostitution. Her story is told through a series of visions in which angels and devils fight for truth in her mind, producing wild and manic dreams. These dreams are embodied by aerialists, improvising musicians, and film in a stream-of-conscious performance.
Lesley Mok: composition, drums, voice, film, production
Charmaine Lee: voice
Maya Keren: piano, voice
Aliya Ultan: cello, voice
Gabrielle “Teddy” Ment: aerial arts
Eleanor Getz: aerial arts
Georgie Johnson: aerial arts
Sophia Herscu: assistant choreographer
The basis for she smashed the enclosure is the not-so-widely known importation of Chinese girls during 1870–1910 to San Francisco. Driven overseas by conditions of poverty at home, young Chinese men immigrated to California to work in the gold mines. They usually came without their wives, as patriarchal cultural values, financial considerations, and anti-Chinese legislation prevented most Chinese women from becoming part of the early stream of immigrants to America. Chinese gangs (tongs) saw this as an economic opportunity and beginning in 1870, established an illegal trade in which they imported women from China for marriage, domestic slave work (mui-tsai), and prostitution. Women who managed to escape often made their way to missionary homes, where they were pressured into adopting gender roles that emphasized female purity, piety, and Christian home life.
While this history illuminates a complex web of western capitalism, Chinese patriarchy, Christianity, and white saviorism, the performance centers Gwai Ying’s spiritual transformation. Her conscience is presented as a continuum of past memories, present moments, and visions for the future.
With support from Commonwealth Circus.
Lesley Mok is a drummer, composer, and improviser who continually finds herself among Brooklyn’s most respected musicians and experimentalists. Interested in the ways social conditions shape our beings, Lesley’s work focuses on transposing, augmenting, and overacting humanness to explore ideas about normalcy, alienness, and privilege. Working with artists including Cory Smythe, Tomeka Reid, Immanuel Wilkins, and Adam O’Farrill, Lesley has honed a unique voice as a drummer and percussionist by employing a dynamic range of timbres and orchestrations. Lesley is an alumni of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute and the Banff Workshop for Jazz & Creative Music. In 2020, Lesley participated as a Fellow at the New Amsterdam Genre-Fluid Composers Lab and as a member of Mutual Mentorship for Musicians, a collaborative program for womxn artists created by Jen Shyu and Sara Serpa. She has been mentored by Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorey, Henry Threadgill, Billy Hart, Danilo Perez, and Terri Lyne Carrington.
Charmaine Lee is a New York-based vocalist. Her music is predominantly improvised, favoring a uniquely personal approach to vocal expression concerned with spontaneity, playfulness, and risk-taking. Beyond extended vocal technique, Charmaine uses amplification, feedback, and microphones to augment and distort the voice. She has performed with leading improvisers Nate Wooley, id m theft able, and Ikue Mori, and maintains ongoing collaborations with Conrad Tao, Victoria Shen, Zach Rowden, and Eric Wubbels. She has performed at ISSUE Project Room, the Kitchen, Roulette, the Stone, and MoMA PS1, and participated in festivals including Resonant Bodies, Huddersfield Contemporary, and Ende Tymes. She has been featured in group exhibitions including The Moon Represents My Heart: Music, Memory and Belonging at the Museum of Chinese in America (2019). As a composer, Charmaine has been commissioned by the Wet Ink Ensemble (2018) and Spektral Quartet (2018). In 2019, she was an Artist-in-Residence at ISSUE Project Room. Charmaine is currently a member of the Editorial Board of Sound American.
Maya Keren is a Philadelphia-raised pianist, vocalist, improviser, and composer currently studying Music and African-American Studies at Princeton University, where she has been mentored by Kris Davis, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Angelica Sanchez. Drawing inspiration from Black American improvised music, contemporary classical, and experimental music traditions, Maya aims to make music that is compassionate and riotous, that smashes expectation and invents new ways of being. In this intention, she feels creatively nourished by the work of artists and writers like Toni Morrison, Thelonious Monk, Audre Lorde, Geri Allen, Saidiya Hartman, Olivier Messiaen, Danez Smith, and Nicole Mitchell. Maya is an alumna of the Kimmel Center’s Creative Music Program and at the Banff Workshop for Jazz & Creative Music and currently plays in Julien Chang’s touring indie-rock-psychedelic-jazz band and acoustic improvised duo Moon! Moon! with bassist Akiva Jacobs. She is also a member of the inaugural cohort of Mutual Mentorship for Musicians, a collaborative working group of womxn artists created by Jen Shyu and Sara Serpa.
Aliya Ultan (b. 1996) is a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, composer, improviser, and filmmaker. Emerging from homelessness and severe abuse Aliya’s creative means for survival have taken many forms. Classically trained as a cellist and composer, Aliya has worked with the New York Philharmonic and International Contemporary Music Ensemble (ICE). As an improviser, Aliya has collaborated with Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorey, and Douglas Ewart among others. Alongside Aliya’s endeavors as a musician, she has worked as Program Director for Make Music Cleveland where she has given hundreds of instruments to displaced families in Ohio for free as well as provided free concerts in venues that are otherwise inaccessible. Aliya has also worked as a dance teacher and music instructor in public and private schools across the states and abroad with an emphasis on interdisciplinary outcomes. Aliya is currently working as a film composer for Showtime and Netflix in collaboration with Brian McOmber of the Dirty Projectors.
Gabrielle Teddy Ment started doing circus in 2007 as a youth troupe member in the Amazing Grace Circus in Nyack, New York, where she gained a foundation in clowning and other circus disciplines. In 2012 she started studying at the New England Center for Circus Arts and in 2014 graduated from their Intensive Professional Training Program. Ment has performed for the past five years nationally in New England, the Midwest, and the Tristate area. Internationally she has studied circus and performed in Toulouse, France, and Nairobi, Kenya. In December 2018 she graduated from Oberlin College with a double major in Dance and Environmental Studies. She has been the winner of numerous awards and grants including launchU’s ignition fund, X-ARTS grants, Helen Ward Memorial Prize. When not hanging upside-down from her toes, Teddy enjoys hiking, gardening, surfing, and being in the great outdoors.
Eleanor Getz studied dance/figure skating throughout her youth in Colorado going on to earn her BFA in Dance/Choreography from Virginia Commonwealth University. She went on to complete the FFP Aerial Dance Professional Program and the Professional Track program at NECCA specializing in hoop and duo trapeze. Eleanor went on to co-found Rabble Dance Collective, Spoke Movement Co, and Teddy & Eleanor. She currently splits her time between Brooklyn, NY and Cape Cod sharing her love of dance, improvisation, and circus through teaching and performing.
Georgie Johnson is a circus artist, dancer, and choreographer. Beginning with circus arts in 2010, she has studied movement arts at New England Center for Circus Arts, Oberlin College, and L’Accademia Dell’Arte among other places. Johnson has shaped her passion for moving by exposing herself to a myriad of forms and techniques including circus, contact improvisation, flamenco, capoeira angola, contemporary dance, and physical theater. Over the span of her career she has choreographed and performed solo dance trapeze, engaged in collaborative projects and installations such as “Awkward Moments Series III” and “Some Things Cosmic Are These”, and directed evening length works such as “Liminal Spaces: A Pedestrian’s Guide”. She recently finished co-directing and choreographing a dance film titled “the 5th day of the fourth month in the twentieth year” which will debut at the Asheville Film Festival this January.
Sophia Herscu is an artist and educator based in Boston, MA dedicated to creating opportunities for learning and performance in circus arts and aerial dance. Whether in the classroom or on the stage, she has always been interested in pushing athletic rigor, exploring human perspectives, and telling stories in the three-dimensional space. In 2011, Sophia was awarded a Watson Fellowship to conduct a year-long study of social circus, a modality of social work infusing circus arts and social justice, in seven countries around the world. Impacted by this study and the power of social circus she auditioned for and attended the accredited Professional Training Program at Frequent Flyers in Boulder, Colorado where she developed her choreographic voice under the mentorship of Nancy Smith. Prior to moving to Boston in 2014, she performed and taught aerial dance with Iluminar Aerial and Frequent Flyers Productions in Colorado.
Photos: headshot by Luke Marantz, Daniel James