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The INS and art

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Amy Reusch posted this on Links, and I thought it would make a good discussion topic, hence, its very own thread:

Amy posted:

I'm not sure this fits in with the standard "news" clipping links, but I thought it was newsworthy, even if the link is only to an article summary:

Ballet-Tanz Newsletter

USA: Undesirable artists Jacopo Godani has problems: the Italian choreographer was set to create a new piece for Jacob's Pillow for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet but was refused an entry visa by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. The bureau justified their decision by stating that they do not consider Godani, a successful associate of the scene surrounding William Forsythe, to be a "significant artist".

I didn't realize the INS was empowered to make aesthetic judgments.

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I don't think they think of it in aesthetic terms, but more practical ones. From what I know of this (and I've written several letters of recommendations for visas for European dancers and teachers) the applicant has to prove that there is NO ONE in the United States capable of doing the job he or she is applying to do. There are instances of dancers, at least, young dancers trying to enter the corps of an American company, who have been denied visas because there are dozens of American dancers who could perform at that level, and who would be out of a job of the foreigner were given entre. There are immigration lawyers who specialize in this and know exactly the right wording to use, but everyone isn't that fortunate.

Trying to get a green card or resident status is much more difficult. I know of instances of dancers and choreographers who have been told they have to prove they are major international artists -- like, say, Merce Cunningham level. Not promising, not good, not an asset to the community, but Major.

So what Ballett-Tanz reports is not at all rare. I would imagine there are difficulties in other countries as well.

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The INS has really gotten tough on granting visas since Sept. 11. They do a microscopic examination of each candidate to screen out any possible terrorist connections. It's become a problem for artists in the last year or so. There have been many other instances of dancers, choreographers, and ballet masters whose visas have been delayed.

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Not to mention Ashcroft's perspective on art and what is acceptable...... My fear is that 9/11 has given these people the ability to deem what is to be allowed and what is not.

Given what others have posted regarding choreographers and the lack thereof in the US, is the INS justified in this?

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Well, as an aside I think this is the same Godani who made a work for the Royal Ballet a couple of years back. It was part of a short season of new work in the Linbury Studio theatre (not the main stage). It was very much school of Forsythe. I didn't care for it much. But he isn't a total unknown as a choreographer.

As regards permission to work in the US, don't similar rules apply to actors ? I recall hearing things about London theatre productions transferring to New York but having to be recast in part because only a limited number of slots for non US actors were permitted.

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Lynette, the restriction on actors appearing in New York (or at least on Broadway) is imposed by Actors' Equity, not the INS. The union wants to protect the jobs of its own members. Similar restrictions apply to American actors in Britain.

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And yet another case:

Scottsdale performances by a dance troupe from India have been canceled after they twice were denied visas.

The 14-member, world-renowned Mamata Shankar Ballet Troupe, which has toured the United States for 25 years, was set to perform next Friday at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts.  

"Discover India 2003" would have exposed Northeast Valley residents to the rich and colorful culture of India. But the dancers were denied visas, and lost an appeal, spurring an investigation into the matter by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

No reason was given for the denials, said Girija Krishnamurthy, president of the India Association of Phoenix, who suspects the rejections might have to do with tighter travel restrictions imposed on foreigners by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Story in the Arizona Republic
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The INS position has been inconsistent, from my brief brushes with it -- it changes by administration, but not always in predictable ways :( (I think it's often at the whim, too, of the person who gets to stamp the paperwork.) I know one dancer who took six years to get his resident alien papers, others that got them in three months. There was a famous dance case about 15 years ago with Kenneth Greve, then a teenager, in whom everyone in the dance world was interested in -- including the directors of both ABT and NYCB. He had letters from at least a dozen people explaining in great detail how unusual he was -- six foot three and coordinated, training from birth, heir to a great tradition, etc etc etc -- and he was denied a work visa. (This was in the media at the time. :) ) Yet there were others from overseas with more modest paper qualifications than he who got visas that summer.

The situation is different now, though, with the Homeland Security department, and I'm cynical enough to believe that The Holy Monks of Tibet won't get in (because Tibet is a hotspot) while the Schlankshlekers of Siburnia (where Schlankshleker is the Siburnian word for "manic killer terrorists armed to the teeth) will :)

Ah for the good old days. I once had to review "The Palestinian Liberation Army Children's Choir" where all the male "children" had beards and during the traditional folk dance company's wedding, the bridegroom was killed on his way to the ceremony and the bride ripped off her dress to strip down to her combat clothes, complete with boots, the best man gave her his AK-47, and she ran off to avenge the death, while the audience leapt to its feet as one, crying "Kill, kill, Israelis." :) It was at the Kennedy Center and the day was Yom Kippur.

(for this thread, obviously, politics has to be discussed. My prohibition against politics is for gratuitous comments thrown into pacific discussions, or slogans in signature lines, that would divert debate from the serene, intellectual conclave we have tried to construct here to discuss higher topics, like who's the best Kitri, or what we think of the Balanchine Celebration :) )

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In my experience too the INS has had little rhyme or reason. I have friends in Atlanta getting a green card within the first six months here and others in the DC area still working on it after four years. Go figure!

I do think the lawyer who fills out the application has a lot to do with it as does the amount of paper filed with the application. Do you feel there are INS dance experts who look at this?? Doubt it. Also if the company has unsuccessfully placed ads and/or held auditions here to fill the positions, it seems to help with employment visas. As for performance visas for companies - I am sure the State Department's list of terrorist potential countries palys a role these days.

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Another annual arts event has bit the dust as a result of the new INS laws. Gaelic Roots , an Irish music and dance festival, held annually at Boston College, recently announced that this year's festival was its last one. The new INS restrictions were cited as the reason.

This year, foreign performers and teachers had to jump through all kinds of hoops to try to get visas for this weeklong event. I read of a few Scottish performers who had to go to England for a face-to-face meeting more than once in order to secure their visas. Some Irish participants were required to head to Dublin repeatedly in their efforts.

Because this was a logistical nightmare for both the participants and the organizers, who didn't know till quite late if the people they hired would receive visas, it was decided that, under current US policy, the event could no longer be held.

Such a shame. It's the only weeklong Irish dance summer intensive in the USA. All ages can participate in classes, the performers are among the finest dancers in the world, and then there's the music! Utter bliss.

I'm hoping it'll be revived in Ireland. Then I'll have an excuse to go there every year.

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Alexandra, I think there's much truth to your idea that a would-be visitor's success depends largely on which INS agent receives the visa application and how that agent interprets policy -- or understands his/her immediate supervisor's interpretation.

Still, I am horrified that at this time, when mutual understanding between nationalities is more important than ever before, the means to such understanding are being placed out of reach. While recognizing that the kinds of threats we face are very different from what they were 40, 30, 20 years ago, I think cultural exchanges contributed to the ending of the Cold War.

It is, unfortunately, those very people who could benefit most from learning how other cultures interpret the universal human condition, who seem to be shutting the door to such understanding.

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Carbro, I agree with you. I can understand it if there's reason to believe that someone is using a group (dance or theater company, rock band) to smuggle in nerve gas, but not to say "ban all foreigners." I haven't read enough about this issue to have an opinion on whether it's still kneejerk post-9/11ism or that some groups (perhaps even arts groups) using this as an excuse to keep out competition, or it's that Desk A in Miami is acting differently from Desk B in Boston.

Another expense for the arts, too, because now companies have to have good immigration lawyers.

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