Is the US Government Cracking Down on Artists' Visas?
In late March, The Joyce Theater's annual gala performance included a last-minute substitution: Blueprint, by choreographer Pam Tanowitz. The trio took the place of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Faun, after two Paris Opéra Ballet dancers were unable to secure visas to appear onstage in the U.S.
"It was a shock," says Linda Shelton, executive director at The Joyce Theater. "In all 25 of my years here, I think we'd only been turned down once before. That was ages ago and we already had a feeling that dancer wouldn't be approved anyway, because of an issue with their passport. This was just a big, big surprise."
Less than a month later, news broke that visa petitions for Bolshoi Ballet stars Olga Smirnova and Jacopo Tissi to perform at the Youth America Grand Prix gala had also been denied. In February 2017, Minneapolis presenter Northrop was forced to cancel a performance by South Korea's Bereishit Dance Company, which was to kick off its second North American tour.
Ballet Nacional de Cuba was forced to withdraw from a performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this month due to visa issues. Photo by Quinn Wharton.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is the division of the Department of Homeland Security that decides whether or not to issue a petition approval notice, which is used by the State Department to issue visas to performers from abroad.
Is the department cracking down on cultural exchange and, if so, is it yet another example of the Trump administration's fixation on foreign nationals in the U.S.?
Not exactly, says Brandon Gryde, director of government affairs for both Dance/USA and Opera America. "It's certainly not a direct attack on the cultural community," he says. "We just get caught up in an overburdening of USCIS and in the increase of petitions, I think."
The two most common types of visas requested on behalf of touring dancers and companies require petitions that include extensive documentation, such as press clippings and marketing materials featuring the artist, support letters, plus an in-person interview at a consulate or embassy prior to entering the U.S.
The first, O-1B (or simply "O-1"), is for one individual "of extraordinary ability in the arts" seeking an opportunity to work in the U.S. The second, P-1B ("P-1"), is for foreign-based groups of two or more artists entering the country solely to perform. Both of these can be requested for a short period of time—a guesting gig or brief tour—or for a longer span, such as a 12-month contract with an American dance company. A third type of visa, known as P-3, may also be requested for culturally unique artists.
Olga Smirnova and Jacopo Tissi's visa petitions to perform at Youth America Grand Prix were denied earlier this year. Photo via Pictat
A time-consuming affair, assembling a petition is the responsibility of the U.S.-based employers, agents, managers, sponsors, presenters or organizers that are hosting the artists. Most experts today recommend starting the process at least six months early.
Three months into his presidency, Trump directed federal agencies to implement a "Buy American, Hire American" strategy, says Los Angeles–based immigration attorney Rachel Wool. "This included proposing new rules and guidance for preventing fraud," she explains. "The bar has risen for initial O-1 applications as well as renewals."
USCIS makes no distinction between petition requirements for dancers and those filed in more mainstream art forms like music or theater, which, generally speaking, may find it easier to garner press coverage. Precedent doesn't necessarily make much of a difference, either; Bereishit's performances at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in 2016 obviously didn't grease the wheels around its return to the U.S. the following season.
If an organization gets nervous about the application taking too long, they might opt to pay a $1,225 fee for "premium processing," theoretically moving it into the fast lane. "As more people get worried about the turnaround time," Gryde explains, "more people pay for premium processing, which in turn slows down traditional processing time."
Add to that gridlock the fact that just two USCIS Service Centers process O- and P-type applications—one in California and the other in Vermont—and a nearly 7 percent increase in the number of O-1 visas issued from 2016 to 2017.
Northrop Dance Series' artistic director Christine Tschida estimates the total cost of each petition to be at least $5,000, not including additional legal consultation or all the staff time involved.
"The whole system is a kind of trap for the unwary," says Geoffrey Smith, former board chair at The Washington Ballet and a lawyer who has worked on visa petitions for ballet dancers and companies for four decades. "I'm a lawyer who does this for a living, and I've still made a lot of mistakes. The government isn't going to go out of its way to let you know that you've made a mistake or, for that matter, tell you how to fix it. One of the problems that we have with both the O and the P visas is that the forms you file for those are the same forms you file for a professional tennis or baseball player. USCIS tries to make one size fit all, which generates ambiguity. I might know that you should simply leave some answers blank, because it's completely inapplicable to dancers, but that takes experience."
Jon Ole Olstad says international dancers can end up paying thousands of dollars in legal fees to navigate the visa system. Photo by Erika Hebbert Larsen, courtesy Olstad
Jon Ole Olstad, 30, is a Norwegian citizen who's danced in the U.S. on an O-1 visa for three years. He made the decision to move to Brooklyn after leaving Nederlands Dans Theater and a brief stint in Rome with Esklan Dance Company. "There's a lot more opportunity here," he says. "More people, more dancers, more companies, more diverse institutions. You meet people from different cultures and that influences your work. That's certainly been inspiring to me."
It hasn't been cheap, however. Olstad says dancers in his shoes pay anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 for legal counsel, not including premium processing. "It costs about $350 just to collect and print all the materials you have to submit, which people don't often think about."
There is a solution on the table which, should it be signed into federal law, would significantly streamline this process: the Arts Require Timely Service Act. It's promoted by the Performing Arts Visa Working Group, which includes Dance/USA. "What the ARTS Act says is that, if USCIS does not adjudicate a petition for a nonprofit, arts-related organization within 14 days, then it would receive premium processing automatically," says Gryde. "That would be huge."
It isn't just the waiting game that's frustrating. Some say that, in the current system, the cards are stacked against the brief window of time professional dancers have to pursue their careers. For example, for P-1 petitions, one thing you have to prove is that 75 percent of the company has been working together for at least one year.
"It has always been difficult—much more difficult than it should be," says Tschida. "More byzantine and so much more expensive than it should be. And it has only gotten worse…but it's tremendously important that we share the work of other cultures, that we welcome other voices. It enriches the work of our own American artists."
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Many choreographers use spoken word to enhance their dance performances. But the Campfire Poetry Movement video series has found success with a reverse scenario: Monticello Park Productions creates short art films that often use dance to illustrate iconic poems.
It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are artists AND athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:
When I was just a little peanut, my siblings and I used to find scrap paper and use them as tickets to our makeshift dance performances at family gatherings. They were more like circus shows, really, where my brother was the ringmaster, and my sisters and I were animals; we dove through imaginary flaming hoops and showcased our best tightrope acts with the suspense of plummeting into an endless pit of sorrows. This was my first introduction to the beauty of movement as a way of communicating.
Photo by Lindsay Linton
So you're on layoff—or, let's be real, you just don't feel like going to the studio—and you decide you're going to take class from home. Easy enough, right? All you need is an empty room and some music tracks on your iPhone, right?
Wrong. Anyone who has attempted this feat can tell you that taking class at home—or even just giving yourself class in general—is easier said than done. But with the right tools, it's totally doable—and can be totally rewarding.
Today, we are thrilled to announce the honorees of the 2018 Dance Magazine Awards. A tradition dating back to 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards celebrate the living legends who have made a lasting impact on dance. This year's honorees include:
Choreographer Ronald K. Brown sees himself as a weaver—of movement, but more importantly, of stories. "When I started my company Evidence 33 years ago, I needed to make a space for what I thought of as evidence—work that tells stories, so that when people saw the work, they would see a reflection or evidence of themselves onstage," says Brown, now 51. "That was my mission, my purpose."
Fast-forward to today: Evidence has become a mainstay in the modern dance world and Brown is now considered a vanguard among choreographers fusing Western contemporary dance with movement from the African diaspora, including popular dance and traditions from West African cultures like Senegalese sabar.
She may not be the first choreographer to claim that movement is her first language, but when Crystal Pite says it, it's no caveat: She's as effective and nuanced a communicator as the writers who often inspire her dances.
Her globally popular Emergence, for instance, was provoked in part by science writer Steven Johnson's hypotheses; The Tempest Replica refracts and reimagines Shakespeare. Recently, her reading list includes essays by fellow Canadian Robert Bringhurst, likewise driven by a ravenous, wide-ranging curiosity.
General director of Spoleto Festival USA since 1995 and, for two decades (1998-2017), the director of the Lincoln Center Festival, Nigel Redden has an internationalist's point of view on the arts—expansive, curious, informed by the cultural wealth that the world has to offer.
He is the son of an American diplomat and grew up moving from place to place—Cyprus, Israel, Canada, Italy—until eventually setting of for Yale to study Art History. After visiting the Spoleto festival in Italy as a young man, and working there while he was still an undergraduate, he very quickly realized what he wanted to: direct festivals. And that's what he has done for most of the last quarter century.
No, she isn't like other artistic directors, and that's not just because she's a woman. Lourdes Lopez, who's led Miami City Ballet since 2012, doesn't want this to be taken the wrong way, but as for her vision? She doesn't really have one.
"I just want good dancers and a good company and good rep and an audience and a theater—let us do what the art form is supposed to be doing," she says. "I don't mean that in a flippant way. It's just how I've always approached it."
Paul Taylor cultivated many brilliant dancers during his 60-plus-year career, but seldom have any commanded such a place of authority and artistry as Michael Trusnovec. He models what it takes to become a great Taylor dancer: weight of movement, thorough grasp of style, deep concentration, steadfast partnering, complete dedication to the choreography and a nuanced response to the music.
Trusnovec can simultaneously make choreography sexy and enlightened, and he can do it within one phrase of movement. Refusing to be pigeonholed, he has excelled in roles as diverse as the tormented and tormenting preacher in Speaking in Tongues; the lyrical central figure—one of Taylor's own sacred roles—in Aureole; the dogged detective in Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal); and the corporate devil in Banquet of Vultures.
Based on the novel by Roland Topor and the 1976 Roman Polanski film, The Tenant follows a man who moves into an apartment that's haunted by its previous occupant (Simone, played by ABT's Cassandra Trenary) who committed suicide. Throughout the show, the man—Trelkovsky, played by Whiteside—slowly transforms into Simone, eventually committing suicide himself.
But some found the show's depiction of a trans-femme character to be troubling. Whether the issues stem from the source material or the production's treatment of it, many thought the end result reinforced transphobic stereotypes about mental illness. We gathered some of the responses from the dance community:
Update: Raffaella Stroik's body was found near a boat ramp in Florida, Missouri on Wednesday morning. No information about what led to the death is currently available. Our thoughts are with her friends and family.
Raffaella Stroik, a 23-year-old dancer with the Saint Louis Ballet, went missing on Monday.
Her car was found with her phone inside in a parking lot near a boat ramp in Mark Twain Lake State Park—130 miles away from St. Louis. On Tuesday, the police began an investigation into her whereabouts.
Stroik was last seen at 10:30 am on Monday at a Whole Foods Market in Town and Country, a suburb of St. Louis. She was wearing an olive green jacket, a pink skirt, navy pants with white zippers and white tennis shoes.
Whether or not you see yourself choreographing in your future, you can gain a lot from studying dance composition. "Many companies ask you to generate your own content. Choreography is more collaborative now," says Autumn Eckman, a faculty member at the University of Arizona.
Look beyond the rehearsal studio, and you'll find even more benefits to having dancemaking skills. "Being a thinker as well as a mover is what creates a sustainable career," says Iyun Ashani Harrison, who teaches at Goucher College. "Viewing dance with a developed eye and being able to speak about what you're seeing is valuable whether you're a dancer, a choreographer, an artistic director or a curator."
Succeeding in composition class often has more to do with attitude than aptitude. Above all, you need "a willingness to play along and explore," says Kevin Predmore, who teaches at the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. "You have to let go of the desire to create something extraordinary, and instead be curious."
Egg Drop Soup's "Partying Alone" video turns a run-of-the-mill dance team audition on its head with a vision of female power from a mature woman. The panel is stunned when a gray-haired, red-lipsticked 80-something tosses aside her cane and lets loose, flipping her hair—and the bird.
Egg Drop Soup - Partying Alone (Official music video)
Take a second look at that head-banging grandma—she is none other than renowned dance researcher and anthropologist Judith Lynne Hanna. An affiliate research professor in anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park, the author of numerous scholarly books and an expert witness in trials for exotic dancers, she has spent her career getting us to think about dance's relationship to society. Hanna, 82, said she hadn't performed since college when she got a call from a music video producer, who caught a video of her dancing with her 13-year-old grandson. The rockers of Egg Drop Soup loved her energy and flew her out to Los Angeles for a day-long video shoot. We spoke to Hanna about the experience.
Since its founding in 1999, more than 80,000 ballet dancers have participated in Youth America Grand Prix events. While more than 450 alumni are currently dancing in companies across the world, the vast majority—tens of thousands—never turn that professional corner. And these are just the statistics from one competition.
"You may have the best teacher in the world and the best work ethic and be so committed, and still not make it," says YAGP founder Larissa Saveliev. "I have seen so many extremely talented dancers end up not having enough motivation and mental strength, not having the right body type, not getting into the right company at the right time or getting injured at the wrong moment. You need so many factors, and some of these are out of your hands."
New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)
The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:
"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."
Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.
Tired of the typical turkey and stuffing? For Thanksgiving this year, try something different with these personal recipes that dancers have shared with Dance Magazine. The ingredients are packed with dancer-friendly nutrients to help you recover from rehearsals and fuel up for the holiday performances ahead.
If anyone raises an eyebrow at your unconventional choices, just remind them that dancers are allowed to take some artistic license!
A dancer once contacted me because he was devastated after walking in on his girlfriend with another man. While he was distressed about ending the relationship, he was most concerned about a major performance coming up. They had to dance a romantic pas de deux. When I met with them together, she was afraid he would drop her and he didn't want to look lovingly in her eyes. My role was to help them find ways to make magic onstage and keep their personal difficulties offstage. They ended up dancing to rave reviews.
Adji Cissoko has the alchemical blend of willowy limbs and earthy musicality you expect from a dancer in Alonzo King LINES Ballet. But she also has something more—a joy in dancing that makes every step feel immediate.
"She has this soulful quality of an ancient spirit coming through her body," says LINES chief executive officer Muriel Maffre, a former prima ballerina with San Francisco Ballet. "She's fearless, which is fun to work with," says artistic director Alonzo King. "I don't know how to put it into words— she's herself."
When Jan Fabre's troupe Troubleyn presents his Mount Olympus: To glorify the cult of tragedy (a 24 hour performance) at NYU Skirball tomorrow it does so under a heavy cloud of controversy.
Fabre is a celebrated Belgian multidisciplinary artist who has been honored as Grand Officer in the Order of the Crown, one of the country's highest honors. His visual art has been displayed at the Louvre and at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. According to The New York Times, his dance company, Troubleyn, receives about $1 million a year from the Belgian government.
But in an open letter posted to Belgian magazine Rekto Verso just a few months ago, 20 of his company's current and former dancers outline a horrific culture of sexual harassment, bullying and coercion. This comes on the heels of similar accusations at New York City Ballet and Paris Opèra Ballet.
Earlier this week, New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck gave us some major onstage makeup inspiration while attending an offstage event. While walking the red carpet at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund gala, Peck's beauty look was still perfectly suited for the ballet with her top knot hairstyle and stage-worthy red lip. Peck's makeup artist for the night, Daniel Duran, shared his exact breakdown on the look, working exclusively with beauty brand Chantecaille. So, whether you're in need of a waterproof brow pencil, volumizing mascara or long-lasting red lip this Nutcracker season, we've got you covered.
There's a new tool that lets amputee ballet dancers perform on pointe. As reported in Dezeen, an architecture and design magazine, industrial designer Jae-Hyun An has created a prosthesis he calls the "Marie . T" (after Marie Taglioni, of course) that allows dancers with below-the-knee amputations to do pointe work.
A carbon fiber calf absorbs shock while a stainless steel toe and rubber platform allow a dancer to both turn and grip the floor to maintain balance. What it doesn't allow the dancer to do? Roll down to demi-pointe or flat.