Current Dance student Rebecca Betteridge interviews graduate Veronica Lee-Baik '98 and members of her company in the following article. Lee-Baik's company, Three Yells, performs her latest work, "A Crack In The Noise," on February 1 and 2 at the Cornish Playhouse.
One of the missions of Cornish is to shape students into artists, citizens, and innovators. Veronica Lee-Baik ‘98 is an alumna of the Cornish Dance Department, and as the Artistic Director for The Three Yells dance company, she encapsulates all of those values. After transferring to Cornish from Singapore, Veronica faced resistance from those around her and says that “[The community] was not trying to bridge the cultural difference and trying to make me conform to their identity.” Finding support from her mentors, friends, and family, Lee-Baik was inspired and encouraged to form The Three Yells, a modern dance company that has been based in Seattle since 2000.
The work that Lee-Baik creates is politically and socially conscious. The company’s previous full-length work, Giselle Deconstruct, was centered on the epidemic of suicide among women through a retelling of the classical ballet story of Giselle. The company’s upcoming work, A Crack in the Noise, premiering February 1 at the Cornish Playhouse, reflects on current immigration policies and the refugee crisis these have exacerbated. When asked how her sensibility as a creator has evolved over her career, Lee-Baik remarked, “All of my work has a focus, it is not frivolous, theme is really important.” The seriousness of the themes explored in the company’s repertoire has led to many outreach programs, of which Lee-Baik says, “Every work has a civic collaboration and we work with public schools with the highest number of minority kids, or the highest percentage of students who are homeless, and immigrant children. It’s very difficult to go in and know that these kids have so little. How do you just walk away after?” She goes on to note, “I never did that before, after I became a mom and see what’s happening in Seattle Public schools, I saw that I need to give back as much as I can.” The community engagement that is integrated into the process is a noteworthy and valuable effort to make dance more accessible and visible to the public as well as incorporating the voice of marginalized people.
Company members Kaiya Holtzman, Drew Gorospe, and Sumaya Mulla-Carrillo are all 2017 alumnae of the Cornish Dance Department. When asked about her experience working with the company, Holtzman said, “Veronica has been an absolute joy and privilege to work with. I feel like because we are both Chinese, it helps us to understand each other on a cultural level and it has really helped me understand where she is coming from.” Lee-Baik provides valuable mentorship to other artists of color and uses her cultural background to inform her work.
Lighting designer Tristan Robertson, long-time collaborator with Lee-Baik, continues the Cornish connection since he is a faculty member in the Performance Production department. When asked why she chooses to work with Robertson on many of her projects, Lee-Baik said, “He’s very respectful and I think what’s very difficult for a lot of collaborators is knowing that I’m in charge, and that a woman is in charge, and an Asian woman is in charge.” This collaboration has lead to incredibly detailed and striking set designs that enhance the company’s projects.
Lee-Baik has an invaluable powerful artistic voice which gives insight into culturally relevant issues. The Three Yells continues to inspire the community and Lee-Baik truly shows what it means to be an artist, citizen, and innovator. She has words of wisdom and advice for soon-to-be-graduates: “Don’t give up. Don’t read reviews. You need to find your voice and your path and you need to make your own mistakes so that you know how to rectify it.”
A Crack In The Noise is a collaborative artwork strengthened by different genres, showing what can be accomplished when differences unite rather than divide. This work expresses the hope, survival, and desperation of a journey reflected in the poignant words of poet, Warsan Shire:
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
A Crack In The Noise is supported in part by Artist Trust’s James W. Ray Venture Project Award, 4Culture Arts Projects Award, Yaw Theater, and Cornish Presents.
Performances at the Cornish Playhouse take place February 1 and 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $15-$25, are available at the door or in advance through Brown Paper Tickets.