Sorry my dude, our country sucks.
Sorry my dude, our country sucks. Dieter Hartwig

This weekend On the Boards planned to close out their season with two shows by Dominican-American choreographer Ligia Lewis, Sorrow Swag and minor matter. Those shows, as they must, will go on. But, thanks to Trump's "Buy American, Hire American" guidelines, they won't go on as planned.

Outdoor Performing Arts Festival featuring over 100 artists, food trucks, a beer garden and more!
Celebrate the return of the live arts in a safe, outdoor setting. Capitol Hill, Sep. 18-19.

Last week, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied the dancer slated to perform Sorrow Swag an O-1B, I-129 Petition. (OtB and I don't want to use the name of the performer, in order to save him any travel headaches in the future.) The visa allows foreign artists to work for the run of a show in the U.S.

USCIS listed three reasons for blocking his entry, according to an email correspondence between the agency and Elise-Ann Konstantin, director of E-AK Visa Services, who secures visas for OtB and a number of other venues.

(1) It was not "apparent how a limited performance would be considered leading or critical" for OtB, (2) the dancer's role within the production "as the lead/star has not been demonstrated," and (3) "[the dancer's] role is not critical for the organization."

In an appeal request, Konstantin explained that (1) the performance is "critical" for OtB because they would "suffer considerable financial hardship" if they had to cancel the show and (2) the artist in question is literally the solo performer in the show, and so there's no way he isn't the "lead/star."

There was also some suggestion in the USCIS's denial that the dancer hadn't performed at enough "establishments with distinguished reputations." Konstantin pointed to the dancer's resume, which includes performances for "Simon Vincenzi, Mike Figgis & Zack Winokur, Jose Vidal, and Vera Tussing," all well-respected names in the world of international dance.

USCIS denied the appeal without providing any further reasoning, according to Rachel Cook, artistic director at OtB.

In September of 2018, the Trump administration implemented enforcement guidelines granting USCIS adjudicators "full discretion to deny applications, petitions, and requests" in order to "frivolous or substantially incomplete filings." This guideline has been used, according to Observer, "to issue denials without any requirement to explain their reasoning."

Securing visas for Australian artist Nicola Gunn and British artist Rachel Mars, who performed at OtB earlier this year, were easier, Cook says, because they're essentially the heads of their company and the primary performers. But Lewis ran into trouble, at least with the U.S., for using an international dancer for a show she choreographed. This was apparently confusing to the agents at USCIS, who apparently don't understand how art works.

"The way she works with these international performers doesn't make sense in the bureaucratic system," Cook says, "it almost confuses it."

Cooks says OtB entertained the idea of securing a tourist visa for the dancer, but they decided against it after a consultation with an immigration lawyer. "[The dancer] could be sent back to his country of origin upon arrival and be banned from the U.S. for five years" if he was paid for a performance while traveling on a tourist visa, Cook says. "As I understand it, those are the recent changes that the Trump administration has put in place."

This isn't the first time traveling artists have been denied a visa in Seattle. Italian post-punk group Soviet Soviet was turned away at SeaTac airport in 2017. They thought they'd be fine rocking as tourists so long as they weren't getting paid, but they were denied entry anyway.

Cook says this experience only increases her desire to work with international artists. "We need to be more vocal with our members of Congress and our senators about how this isn't the society we want to live in," Cook said. "The last thing we should do is shutting those conversations down. We should only be trying to push them further open."

As a result of all this, Ligia Lewis herself will perform Sorrow Swag with her brother, the electronic musician Twin Shadow. "The piece was originally created to be cast onto a white male body, so this idea shifts the work to no longer be in that same body. This will be the first time she's ever done this," Cook said.

OtB also had to make changes to this weekend's performance schedule. If you bought tickets for Thursday's show, you'll see minor matter instead of Sorrow Swag. On Saturday and Sunday, OtB will present both shows back to back with a "musical interlude" by Twin Shadow. An hour before those performances, you'll get to see a free screening of Sorrow Swag with the banned performer.

Here's the updated schedule, straight from the press release:

Thursday, May 16
8 PM minor matter
Free screening of Sorrow Swag begins at 7:00 PM
Artist conversation to follow

Friday, May 17
8 PM minor matter
Free screening of Sorrow Swag begins at 7:00 PM
Artist conversation to follow

Support The Stranger

Saturday, May 18
7:30 PM Sorrow Swag in collaboration with Twin Shadow + minor matter in succession (audience is permitted to come and go during the interlude)
Free screening of Sorrow Swag begins at 6:30 PM

Sunday, May 19
5 PM Sorrow Swag in collaboration with Twin Shadow + minor matter in succession (audience is permitted to come and go during the interlude)
Free screening of Sorrow Swag begins at 4:00 PM

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