Northop Auditorium has cancelled the Feb. 28 appearance of a South Korean dance company after the troupe was unable to receive U.S. travel visas.
Bereishit is a four-year-old company whose profile has quickly risen on the international dance scene thanks to an unusual fusion of modern dance, martial arts and hip-hop. Tuesday’s Northrop Auditorium performance was supposed to be the first of three stops on the company’s third American tour.
The dance company traveled to Texas in 2015 and performed last year at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts. Sophie Myrtil-McCourty, Bereishit’s agent, said the seven dancers and their tour personnel are all South Korean nationals who have had no previous difficulties obtaining visas. She has hired an attorney, and is trying to get the visas granted so the company can still make its March dates in Pittsburgh and San Diego.
“We’ve had no problems,” Myrtil-McCourty said. “This is just silliness.”
In October, Northop Auditorium filed a petition on behalf of the dancers, three technicians, a tour manager and artistic director Soon-Ho Park. That petition for “P” category visas has not yet been granted. Since the dancers were scheduled to fly from Seoul on Saturday, and because it takes at least three more days for artists to complete the visa process at an embassy, Northrop was forced to cancel not only the evening public performance, but a matinee for 1,900 high school students.
“It is just miserable,” said Christine Tschida, director of the University of Minnesota’s performing arts venue. Northrop has had visas “come down to the wire” before, but never resorted to cancelling shows. Past snafus have included difficulty replacing a pregnant dancer (the company had to get a letter from the dancer’s doctor), and difficulty getting a physiotherapist approved as a support staff member for the Hong Kong Ballet. (Tschida submitted support letters from American Ballet Theatre and the Houston Ballet saying a company of that size should be able to travel with their own physical therapist.)
They've faced challenges, but they’ve never dealt with anything like this.
“We haven’t had a denial, we have just not been given and answer,” Tschida said.
Because they applied last fall, Tschida said she has no reason to believe that President Donald J. Trump’s recent immigration crackdowns are a factor, although its fair to say that his pending presidency and now executive orders are keeping officers at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service very busy.
“The processing times, especially in the last few months, have gotten absolutely insane,” said Michael Davis, an immigration attorney at Davis & Goldfarb in downtown Minneapolis. He has been encouraging his clients, including several Israeli artists, to pay a $1225 premium processing fee and speed the process along.
Sandra Feist, another Minneapolis-based immigration attorney who specializes helping international clients obtaining visas, said that petitioning for a dance troupe like Bereishit could be “tricky” because their dance style is tough to categorize, and because they often perform to Korean folk music. The P1 visas that Northrop sought are for athletes or members of an “international recognized” entertainment group. But Feist said Northrop could also have tried petitioning for a visa designated for artists that perform “culturally unique” work (P3), or for longer-term visas granted to artists of “extraordinary ability” (O-1).
To a certain extent, she said, the visa process is subjective; one officer could say they applied in the wrong category, another could approve the petition as is.
Whatever the issue, Tschida hopes this doesn’t happen again. More than 600 people had purchased tickets to Bereishit’s evening performance. They can exchange those tickets for another show, use the money as a credit to buy a subscription or receive a refund. And finally: “If they’ve already paid their credit bill, they are welcome to simply donate the money to Northrop,” she said.
Most patrons have been notified via email. If someone had a phone number on file but no email, they’ll get a call. And if anyone still somehow doesn’t get the memo…
“Our box office will be open on Tuesday, and we’ll have staff there to greet people, just in case anyone shows up,” Tschida said.
Photo of Bereishit courtesy Lotus Arts Management.