What’s the most challenging aspect of organizing a dance festival with artists from all over the world?
Cyrus Khambatta, the founder and director of the Seattle International Dance Festival, had one word: “Visas.”
The ability — or, in this case, inability — for performers to travel easily has made planning for the 2017 festival “even more difficult than others,” Khambatta said.
“Bringing international artists is a hugely complex, costly and arduous process,” he said. “It requires extensive communication back and forth with the artists, gathering information and materials, and justifying to our government why the artists should be allowed to enter the United States to perform. …
“In years past we relied on outside legal assistance to accomplish this task, but now we are bringing in too many international artists and we can’t afford that, so we did it all internally. The U.S. government just raised the cost of each of the visas for artists coming to the country. By now everyone is aware of the additional layers of scrutiny being applied due to political reasons.”
Getting P1 visas this year, with the effects of the Trump Administration’s attempts to limit international travel to the United States, took the support and assistance of three congressional offices, Khambatta said, including with Washington 7th Congressional District Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s constituent services and outreach coordinator. The prospect of getting Swiss company Tabea Martin visas, for example, “was looking bleak,” he said, but Jayapal’s office was able to make it happen.
"Helping constituents like the Seattle International Dance Festival is at the heart of the work our office is doing,” according to a statement from Jayapal to the Capitol Hill Times. “I’m pleased we could help. Our caseworker in my district office worked hard with federal agencies to successfully expedite the cases of SIDF dancers and get them in.
“This is just one example from my district of the destructive impact of the Trump administration's xenophobic rhetoric and policies across our country - directly harming millions of individual immigrants, diminishing the diversity and quality of our culture, and undermining our economy. We persist. The show will go on."
The Seattle International Film Festival will take place June 9-25, with most performances occurring at Seattle Central College’s Broadway Performance Hall.
Khambatta studied dance in Paris and elsewhere in Europe before he arrived in Seattle in 2001. He set up the first version of the festival in 2006. It featured one French dance company and one local dance company.
“[The International Dance Festival] represents the rich and diverse cultures of the world, and each year looks to find a part of the world it has not previously represented,” Khambatta said. “[We have] split bills to allow audiences to examine the creation of art within different cultural contexts. The festival hopes that the audience will gain insight into their own cultural experience as well as a greater understanding of the world in which we live and the people that inhabit it.”
This year’s festival will include a focus on contemporary ballet. The series will present a commission by Miles Pertl of Pacific Northwest Ballet, as well as works by choreographers Daniel Costa, Christopher D'Ariano and Donald Byrd.
Art on the Fly will take place during the South Lake Union Saturday Market in Denny Park noon to 3 p.m. June 3, and include free all-ages dance events.
“I don't have all the answers yet,” Khambatta said. “But I can tell you that my colleague Connie Villines is corralling a number of West Coast and international dance companies, including Seattle’s own Massive Monkees.”
The companies will give staged performances with interactive activities, and free dance classes interspersed among dozens of arts and craft vendors.
The festival’s cabaret-style Sanity Café, with drinks and conversation, returns for a fourth year on June 12 at the Rendezvous in Belltown. The festival adds, this year, a special interactive two-part performance event titled [FRAGILE] on June 19 and 21. The Threshold Institute, a workshop for aspiring dancers, runs from June 19-24; registered dancers study with guest teachers from the festival’s roster.
Overall, the festival promises an embarrassment of riches, Khambatta said.
“I can’t pick out one event over another event to which I direct people's attention,” he said. “All I can say is that each year I look forward to the entire festival, with its expansive range and eclectic plethora of expression.
“Seattle International Dance Festival is a celebration of the human spirit in all its colors and the more individual events people attend the more likely they are to benefit from the multifaceted all-encompassing world of art-making. Attending is like looking through a kaleidoscope as it [turns,] and reveling in all the different colors, shapes and patterns.”