Pulling together an international arts festival is no small feat. Artists need venues, accommodations and rehearsal spaces, and organizers face struggles with visa requirements for incoming performers.
Despite kinks in the system, the San Francisco International Arts Festival is in its eighth year of presenting unique, world-class performances that wouldn’t otherwise be seen in the United States.
“This is an opportunity to see a broad body of work that you would never see in this country,” festival founder Andrew Wood says. “We present the kind of work that isn’t on the circuit, for an audience who are itching for something else. They need to see new life and new ideas. The artists that we present embody that, and that’s what makes it exciting.”
Running Wednesday through June 5, the festival includes some 50 performances — dance, music, opera, theater and performance art — featuring talent from Iraq, Israel, Cuba, Spain, Mexico, Poland and Seattle.
“A lot of American presenters will not work with artists that do not have a U.S. agent because they don’t want to deal with visas and all the difficulties that come from bringing people in from outside the country,” Wood says.
SFIAF makes the trip worthwhile because many artists come to collaborate in addition to performing.
“One of our goals is to develop opportunities for local artists in international arenas,” Wood says. “We introduce artists together at the festival, and sometimes they’ll go on to create work together several years later.”
One example is the connection between Afro-Cuban jazz composer-pianist Omar Sosa and Bay Area Latin jazz percussionist John Santos.
The musicians worked together in the 1990s, when they both lived in the Bay Area. Sosa’s move to Barcelona in 1999 put a damper on those collaborations, but SFIAF brought Sosa back to the festival in 2008, and their artistic relationship was renewed. They open this year’s festival with a show at Yoshi’s on Wednesday.
The festival also hosts the U.S. premiere of Iraqi Bodies, a contemporary dance company founded in Iraq by award-winning choreographer and artistic director Muhanad Rasheed.
The troupe, which has moved to the Netherlands, appears in two festival events — a piece called “Crying of My Mother,” described as a metaphor for the religious conflict in Iraq, and a work-in-progress with the Bay Area’s Dance Elixir called “THIEVES,” which creators call a “raw, alternatively grotesque and tender picture of shadowy humanity.” The piece is slated to return in final form at next year’s festival.
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