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Choreographer/ Artistic Director
Since 1980 Joanna has been creating work that uses natural, architectural and cultural environments as points of departure for movement exploration and narrative. Her stages have included grain terminals, a clock tower, the pope’s palace, military forts, and a mile of urban neighborhood streets in the South Bronx. Her work has been commissioned by many arts institutions, including Dancing in the Streets, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Walker Arts Center, the Exploratorium Museum, the National Black Arts Festival, and Festival d'Avignon. She has also been honored with the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, the United States Artist Fellowship, and a New York Bessie Award. Haigood is also a recipient of the esteemed Doris Duke Artist Award. Joanna has had the privilege to mentor many extraordinary young artists internationally at the National École des Arts du Cirque in France, the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in England, Spelman College, the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University, the San Francisco Circus Center and at Zaccho Studio.
Veronica Blair (she/her) has emerged as one of the top Black aerialists in the country, and has taken her high-flying talents all around the world. Blair, a Bay Area native, began her career at the age of 14 at the Circus Center San Francisco (formerly the San Francisco School of Circus Arts). Shortly after making her debut at 17, she was noticed by Cedric Walker, the founder of the Universoul Circus. Walker named Blair as a solo trapeze artist, and she was Universoul’s Resident Aerialist for over five years. Blair has performed in Afrika! Afrika!, Germany’s largest circus event, and also worked for Universal Studios Japan. She still works with the Circus Center, and has put on shows featuring other Black aerialists and circus performers for themed events, such as a tribute to recording artist Prince that took place in 2014. Black circus performers are rarely recognized, and Blair has taken on the task of filming a documentary that puts a new light on those who work in the industry. Blair’s The Uncle Junior Project came about after the death of little-known Black circus animal trainer of the same name. In an attempt to uphold Junior’s legacy and that of the Black circus, Blair has the ambitious aim of bringing those unknown entertainers to the forefront. The San Francisco Aerial Arts Festival premiered her "The RAINBOW is Enuf” in 2022, a reimaging of playwright Ntozake Shange’s "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf," expressed through the lens of modern circus.
amara tabor-smith (she/her) is a dancer, choreographer, and the artistic director of Deep Waters Dance Theater. Tabor-Smith’s work, as described by the artist, is Afro Futurist Conjure Art. Her dance making practice utilizes Yoruba spiritual ritual to address issues of social and environmental justice, race, gender identity, and belonging. House/Full of Blackwomen, her current project is a multi site-specific dance theater work that addresses the displacement, well-being, and sex-trafficking of black women and girls in Oakland.
Tabor-Smith is a recipient of the 2017 United States Artist Award, 2016 Creative Work Fund grant, the 2017 MAP Fund grant, and the 2017 Kenneth Rainin Foundation grant, and a co-recipient of the 2016 Creative Capital Grant with longtime collaborator, Ellen Sebastian Chang. In 2017, she received the UBW Choreographic Center Fellowship. Her work has been performed in Brazil, the Republic of the Congo, New York, and throughout the San Francisco Bay area where her company is based. Additionally, Tabor-Smith has performed in the works of Ed Mock, Joanna Haigood, Ana Deveare Smith, and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and she is a former member of Urban Bush Women. She received an MFA in Dance from Hollins University. Tabor-Smith is an Artist in Residence at Stanford University and she is on faculty at UC Berkeley.
Toni Jean Cannon
Toni Jean Cannon (he/him) is a black trans masculine person who has dedicated his body to performing circus arts, using the Chinese pole act as one of his instruments in reconciling his gender identity. Cannon started his circus career later in life; however, this hasn’t stopped him from diving deep into his new found love and passion — consistently finding new ways to express himself through acrobatics. The first years of his career were spent with Master Lu Yi learning disciplines like acrobatics, duos/trios acrobatics, and Chinese pole. Performances have included Aerial Animations, Topsy Turvy Circus, This is Acrosanct, Witchtech, Circus Bella, and the San Francisco Aerial Arts Festival.
Erik K. Raymond Lee
Born and raised in Oakland, California, Erik K. Raymond Lee (he/him) began his dance journey at UC Berkeley where he trained and earned a BA in Dance & Performance Studies and Art Practice with a concentration in painting (2010). Lee since has Joined Dimensions Dance Theater under the direction of Deborah Vaughn, as a company member and choreographer, debuted choreographic work as a participant in the Artist in Mentorship Program (AMP) with Black Choreographer’s Festival (BCF) directors Laura Elaine Ellis and Kendra Kimbrough Barnes (2015), and earned his MFA in Dance from Mills College. Lee has volunteered in dance ministry with the Worship in Arts Ministry (WAM) at Covenant Church for 10 years, functioning as Artistic Director/choreographer since 2014. His work, whether within the realm of dance theater or faith-based events, aims to inspire, give hope and uplift the community.
Jason Span (he/him) is a former gymnast of eleven years and a former US Navy Hospital Corpsman based out of Jacksonville, Florida. He was honorably discharged from active duty in the United States Navy after serving for ten years to pursue his dream of becoming an aerial artist. Span quickly developed his artistry on aerial silks in June 2015 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He relocated back to his home town in Jacksonville, Florida in October 2015 when he joined Bittersweet Studios. Always seeking to improve his skills, Jason began to cross train on multiple apparatuses such as aerial hoop, aerial straps and pole (dance). Span began teaching and performing aerial arts at Bittersweet Studios and is currently touring with AIDA Cruises based out of Germany.
San Francisco native with the incarnations of Mississippi, Tossie Long (she/her) is named after her father, her father’s father, and her fathers father father, making her the first woman in her lineage with the name. She is a mother, multidisciplinary performing artist, sound sculptress, facilitator, producer and director that speaks to the intersections of culture, personal identity and sociopolitical issues. Nicknamed "Bone Rattler '' Long uses art, culture, and explorations in intimacy as her tools to rattle actuality. A practitioner of ceremonial music from around the world with a focus on diasporic cosmology, Long has voyaged to Haiti, Cuba and Benin tracing the migration of Vodou studying the culture through music. She is currently excavating the inner workings of her mind via her multi-part project Red Clay: A Romance Primer: The Preservation of Landmarks: Body, Architecture and Desire, interpreted through sound, film, stage and movement. The last Black woman of San Francisco; Long is a connoisseur of brussel sprouts, loves heavy weightlifting and dirty chais all wrapped up by nature walks with her French bulldog Charlie. Long does not perform for the sake of performing, but to push her perceived limits.
Steven Anthony Jones
Steven Anthony Jones (he/him) was the Artistic Director of the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, the premiere African-American theater company in the San Francisco Bay area. He directed Philip Kan Gotanda's After the War Blues for the UC Berkeley Dept. of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. He has worked professionally on stage, television and in film for 42 years. He has performed in the works of August Wilson, (Charles) Fuller, Fugard, Stoppard, Gotonda, Becket, Pinter, Moliere, Shakespeare, Chekhov and others. He was in the original cast of A Soldier’s Play, produced by the Negro Ensemble Company, which won an Obie Award for ensemble acting and the Pulitzer Prize for best drama. He performed, taught, and directed at the American Conservatory Theater for 22 years as a member of the core acting company. His many film and television credits include two seasons of Midnight Caller and a recurring role on the NBC series Trauma. Jones received his early theater training at Karamu House in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Other experience includes the Cleveland Playhouse, Berkeley Rep, San Jose Rep, and San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. Most recently, he played Becker in the Broadway tour of August Wilson’s Jitney.