Bringing performers to the U.S. is an ongoing issue, says Cyrus Khambatta, founder/director of SIDF. “It’s always been abnormally difficult compared to other countries.”
Dancers impress audiences with their athleticism, grace and astonishing feats of memory.
But the elaborate hoops that dance presenters jump through when bringing troupes from outside the U.S. to this country can be as intricate and demanding as any dance performance.
Cyrus Khambatta, the founder-director of the Seattle International Dance Festival (SIDF) — running June 9-25 this year — acknowledged, “It’s always been difficult. And it’s always been abnormally difficult compared to other countries.”
Seattle International Dance Festival
Festival opens with free “Art on the Fly” event, noon-3 p.m. Saturday, June 3, at Denny Park, 100 Dexter Ave. N., featuring performances and free dance classes; performance series is June 9-25, Broadway Performance Hall, Seattle; single tickets $18-$27, passes $38-$125 (888-377-4510 or seattleidf.org).
Hearing him explain the complications of mounting SIDF, it’s clear that his talent for bureaucracy navigation has to be on par with his talents as a choreographer and dance-troupe administrator. When we met, he had just gotten visas for Gu Jiani, a Chinese company from Beijing. “We’ve had three congresspeople working on it,” he says. “You send in a lot of paperwork.”
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The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the organization that decrees whether SIDF’s scheduled performers can enter the country.
“We submitted a 300-page document for the Chinese,” Khambatta says. “That was the second document. The first document, I think, was 100 pages.”
What’s in those fat documents?
Responses to a seven-page “request for evidence” from USCIS.
Khambatta needs statements from government agencies testifying the dance troupe is of national and international importance, plus records of financial and artistic awards the troupe has received. Press reviews are part of the package, too — and everything has to be in English. SIDF also has to prove it would suffer “financial hardship” if the performers didn’t make it into the country.
Once USCIS activates a case, Khambatta usually has only 48 hours to supply information.
Khambatta says that U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s office has been vital in putting pressure on the USCIS. Jayapal said in a statement: “Our caseworker in my district office worked hard with federal agencies to successfully expedite the cases of SIDF dancers and get them in … We persist. The show will go on.”
Things don’t always work out. In 2011, SIDF had an Amsterdam-based troupe called Iraqi Bodies scheduled to perform a duet at the festival. Only one of the performers was allowed in the country, so the choreographer-performer was forced to rework it as a solo at the last minute.
Three years later Khambatta received notification that the second dancer was now allowed to enter the U.S. At first he couldn’t even place the dancer’s name. “It freaked me out because I thought, you know, I have an artist that I didn’t remember. Then finally I figured out what it was for.”
This year SIDF has had one invited group that declined to come.
“They’re from a Western industrialized country,” Khambatta says. “If anyone has ever had any trouble at one of our airports — and I think this was the case with them — then they are afraid.”
Visa complications can rear their head where you least expect them to. This year’s holdup — still unresolved as of late May — is with a company from Switzerland, of all places.
SIDF’s free outdoor “Art on the Fly” programming takes place, as always, in South Lake Union (noon-3 p.m. June 3, Discovery Field, Denny Way and Ninth Avenue).
All theatrical performances have shifted to Capitol Hill’s Broadway Performance Hall and, for one two-part performance, Velocity Dance Center. The number of shows has expanded slightly. In addition to the “Inter|National Series,” which matches overseas troupes with U.S. dance companies (including Khambatta Dance Company), SIDF will also reprise its “Spotlight on Seattle” series which, Khambatta says, looks “at the breadth of what Seattle is now” with both new and familiar acts.
A quick spin through visiting companies’ website videos shows a wide range of troupes: Gu Jiani from China (June 9-10), Quorum Ballet from Portugal (June 16-17), Invertigo Dance Theater from Los Angeles (June 18), Serial Paradise from Romania (June 19 and 22) and Sapphire Creations Dance Company from India (June 23-24).
Serial Paradise looks particularly provocative. At their June 19 performance, they’ll solicit performance ideas from the audience. And on June 22, audience members will have to join the dancers in any actions they suggested. Only viewers who attended on June 19 are allowed to attend on June 22.
“Whatever you dish out,” Khambatta says with a smile, “you have to be prepared to deal with.”