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.
Dancers’ Group serves artists, the dance community and audiences via programs and services that are as collaborative and innovative as the creative process itself. We lead as both a service organization and a presenter of performance opportunities. This hybrid engagement maximizes our impact in San Francisco and beyond and supports a vision of the region’s dance community as diverse, resilient, resourced and artistically vibrant.
Dancers’ Group’s strategic plan articulates that dance programming in publicly-accessible spaces, both indoors or outdoors, plays a pivotal role in stimulating public interest in dance and in positioning dance at the center of civic life. Consequently, supporting the creation and presentation of public dance programming is a top priority for Dancers’ Group. Helping artists make work is Dancers’ Group’s number one guiding principle, intimately connected to the organization’s audience engagement goals.
Dancers’ Group and Joanna Haigood are a recipient of the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions, launched in 2017 to celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary. It is a five-year, $8 million initiative supporting the creation and premiere of 50 new works from outstanding artists working in five performing arts disciplines. The largest commissioning effort of its kind in the country, the initiative is a symbol of the Hewlett Foundation’s longstanding commitment to supporting art that matters to the people and communities of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Hewlett Foundation has supported the arts in the region for more than 50 years, and currently makes grants of roughly $20 million per year to more than 200 nonprofit arts organizations, mostly in the form of long-term general operating support. More information about the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions can be found at: hewlett.org/50Commissions.
Marcus Anthony Shelby
Marcus Anthony Shelby is a composer, bassist, bandleader, and educator who currently lives in San Francisco, California. His work focuses on the history, present, and future of African American lives social movements and music education.
In 1990, Marcus Shelby received the Charles Mingus Scholarship to attend Cal Arts and study composition with James Newton and bass with Charlie Haden. Currently, Shelby is the Artistic Director of Healdsburg Jazz, an artist in residence with the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, and a past resident artist with the San Francisco Jazz Festival and the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. Shelby has composed several oratorios and suites including “Harriet Tubman”, “Beyond the Blues: A Prison Oratorio”, “Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”, “Black Ball: The Negro Leagues and the Blues”, “Green and Blues”, and a children’s opera “Harriet’s Spirit” produced by Opera Parallel 2018. Shelby also composed the score and performed in Anna Deavere Smith’s Off-Broadway Play and HBO feature film “Notes from the Field” (2019). Shelby is also the voice of Ray Gardener in the 2020 Oscar-Winning Disney Pixar film “SOUL”. Shelby has also worked with a range of artists including Angela Y. Davis’ “Blues Legacies and Black Feminism” (2019), Joanna Haigood’s “Dying While Black and Brown” (2014), Margo Hall’s “Bebop Baby” (2013), and “Sonny’s Blues” (2008), the Oakland Ballet’s “Ella” The SF Girl Choir (2013), The Oakland Youth Chorus (2014), and many other productions over the past 23 years. Shelby has served on the San Francisco Arts Commission since 2013 and has worked with the Equal Justice Society for over 20 years. The Marcus Shelby Orchestra has released 5 CDs--“The Lights Suite”, “Port Chicago”, “Harriet Tubman”, “Soul of the Movement: Meditations on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”, and “Transitions”.
Mildred Howard is best known for her multimedia assemblage work and installations. Howard completed her Associates of Arts Degree & Certificate in Fashion Art at the College of Alameda, Alameda, CA in 1977 and received her M.F.A. from Fiberworks Center for the Textile Arts at John F. Kennedy University in Berkeley, CA in 1985. In 2015, she received the Lee Krasner Award in recognition of a lifetime of artistic achievement. She has also been the recipient of the Nancy Graves Grant for Visual Artists (2017), the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award (2004/5), a fellowship from the California Arts Council (2003), the Adaline Kent Award from San Francisco Art Institute (1991), and, most recently, received the Douglas G. MacAgy Distinguished Achievement Award at San Francisco Art Institute (2018). Her large-scale installations have been mounted at: Creative Time in New York, InSITE in San Diego, CA; the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA; the National Museum of Women in the Arts; the New Museum in New York, the City of Oakland; and the San Francisco Arts Commission and International Airport. Her works reside in the permanent collections of: the Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA; the de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego, CA; the Museum of Glass and Contemporary Art, Tacoma, WA; the Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA; SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA; and the San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA, among others.
Sean Riley is a master rigger, engineering enthusiast and set designer with an expertise in suspension and load transfer involving large masses and difficult access. He has risen to the height of his field through creating functional and architecturally sound installations. Riley is the founder and principal rigging designer for Gravity Design Inc., a company based in San Francisco, CA, that provides innovative rigging and force management solutions for a wide variety of clients all over the world — from circus acts to industrial installations. He is always hands-on (welding, constructing, wiring), and though he is no stranger to high-risk responsibility, he has a flawless safety record. His passion for mechanics is matched only by his passion for extreme adventure. He drives heavy machinery, jumps off bridges, rock climbs and is a back-country solo survivalist. Riley studied theatre arts at University of California Santa Cruz and has taught college-level theatrical design.
David Freitag is an aerial rigging designer who is somehow lucky enough to still be based in San Francisco. Dave has spent the past 20 years (and hopefully the next 20 more) striving to perfect his craft as a rigger, and making his peace with Sir Isaac Newton. Along the way, he has held the honor of being one of the lead riggers on a wide range of site specific dance productions performing on walls and theaters both internationally and across the Bay Area, including Sens Productions, Zaccho, Capacitor, Flyaway, and Printz Dance Project. Dave spent 8 years touring internationally as lead rigger for Cirque Mechanics USA, and currently bides his time between aerial gigs as the house rigger at the Masonic Auditorium on Nob Hill. A master's graduate of UC Santa Barbara and SFSU, Dave holds rigging certifications in SPRAT, ETCP, and is a journeyman member of IATSE Local 16. When not holding the other end of the circus ropes, on dark days he can be found pursuing his habits of of off-beat adventure, exploring new places to climb, sea kayak, camp, fish, build treehouses, or soak in a remote hot spring. Currently, Dave is looking up, and always stands under his work.
Krissy Kenny began her lighting career as a union stagehand and designer for educational and professional companies throughout Vermont. Since moving to San Francisco in 2013, she has served as Lighting Director for the vertical dance company Bandaloop, Head Electrician for the Curran Theater’s Curran Under Construction series, Lighting Consultant for several schools, non-profits, and a wine cave in Croatia. She has been Head Electrician on numerous corporate event keynotes and product launches, concerts, and has toured circus and dance shows to Mexico, St. John (USVI), Hungary, Canada, and across the US. Her unconventional background in labor gives a unique perspective on what is physically possible in design.
Since joining Lightswitch in 2019, Krissy has additionally taken on architectural lighting and project management. She relies on her collegiate background in anthropology, archaeology, and history, as well as activities that draw her into nature, to help clients tell their stories with exacting detail and boundless creativity. www.lightswitch.net
Veronica Blair 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 former San Francisco School of Circus Arts, now known as the Circus Center San Francisco. 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.
Tristan Ching Hartmann
Tristan Ching Hartmann received her early training from the San Francisco Ballet School and the Westside School of Ballet. She began studying modern dance with Diane Frank and Robert Moses at Stanford University, where she received a B.A. in English and a M.A. in Dance Education. Tristan is grateful to have danced with Robert Moses’ KIN for 11 years as well as such artists as Sharp and Fine, Project B, RAWdance, Janice Garrett, Stephen Pelton, and Chen and Dancers. Tristan was on faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance until the school’s closing in 2018 and has since started presenting her own work, collaborating with the writers of Red Light Lit as well as her fellow dance heroes. Tristan is thrilled to be joining MJDC at this stage of her career and exploring how an aging body experiences dance, art, love, and life.
Ciarra D’Onofrio is a dancer and aerialist with a passion for art, social justice, and creating community through movement arts. She was born and raised here in the Bay Area where she began exploring dance and aerial arts at age 5. Since then, she has trained in movement arts ranging from circus arts to contemporary and jazz dance. She studied dance and choreography at Lewis & Clark College where she received the 2015 Distinction in Dance Choreography award, an award given to one graduating choreographer each year. As a member of the Circus Project’s Training and Performance Company (Portland, OR), she specialized in trapeze and aerial silks. Her performance background includes work with the Circus Project, Aerial Arts Fairfax, Aerial Dance Marin, Evening Star Presents, Camp Winnarainbow, and Lewis & Clark College. Ciarra has completed 3 aerial teacher training programs with Carrie Heller of the Circus Arts Institute and Camp Winnarainbow. She has taught aerial arts to youth and adults for over 7 years and loves seeing the growth, confidence, and joy her classes bring to her students.
Erik K. Raymond Lee
Born and raised in Oakland, California, Erik K. Raymond Lee began his dance journey UC Berkeley where he trained and earned a BA in Dance & Performance Studies and Art Practice with a concentration in painting . Erik 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) earned his MFA in Dance from Mills College. Erik also volunteers in dance ministry with the Worship in Arts Ministry (WAM) at Covenant Church for now 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.
Jocelyn Reyes is a Latin American contemporary dance choreographer based in San Francisco. She holds a B.S. in Cognitive Science and a B.A. in Dance from U.C.L.A., and she is the artistic director of REYES Dance. Reyes began dancing at the age of seven, learning cumbia, merengue and salsa from her parents at family gatherings. Reyes began her training in contemporary dance in middle school at her public performing arts school and later continued her dance education at UCLA. While still in school, Reyes began presenting her original choreography in venues around Los Angeles including Bootleg Theater, REDCAT studio, Atwater Village and Curtis Theater. After graduating in 2017, she moved to San Francisco and founded REYES Dance. Since then, she has produced two evening-length works, “Accretion” and “MAGOS”, as well as shorter works appearing on programs from the Festival of Latin American Contemporary Choreographers to the West Wave Festival and RAWdance Concept Series. In 2020, Reyes began working with film and has since created five short films which have premiered in various festivals. In 2022 she curated her first annual dance film festival, “Dance Thrill Fest”, providing eight Bay Area emerging artists a platform to share their work. Reyes was a 2019 Latinextensions mentee, and is currently a co-production artist at Joe Goode Annex and a RAWdance Radiate Fellow. Her latest work, “LASOS”, is supported by grants from the San Francisco Arts Commission and Dancers' Group.
Nina Sawant is a multidisciplinary circus artist with a fascination for visual storytelling. Nina began her career as a dancer at Busch Gardens Tampa in 2006, where she discovered circus through fellow cast mate Vitaliy Krymskyi. She went on to tour with Vitaliy and his family in Ukraine, and has since performed across the US and Europe. She is a founding member of The Dahlias, a woman of color led circus ensemble, and performs locally for Vespertine Circus, Sweet Can Productions, and Misfit Cabaret. When she's not on stage, Nina can be found making costumes, short films, and more for her Patreon.
Saharla Vetsch (she/her) is a Somali American independent dance/drag artist born and raised in Minnesota. Now residing in the Bay Area, Saharla has earned a degree in Performing Arts and Social Justice with a concentration in dance from the University of San Francisco. Her work centers around questions and curiosities about individuals’ intersecting identities and how they relate to one another. Her drag persona Major Hammy seeks to spread joy and love by being the life of the party, and bringing the freedom of self expression he experiences through dance to others. Saharla was recently a collaborating artist in Detour Dance's "WORK MORE! 9" and participated in other pieces as part of their "Up On High" film series. She has also performed with Joe Goode Performance Group in "Time of Change" and is currently a RAWdance Radiate fellow.
Dana Kawano is a multifaceted artist known for her transformative work as a costume designer, scenic installation, and visual artist. She weaves textiles and objects into
captivating wearable and scenic art, infusing cultural and ritual elements to convey compelling narratives. Collaborating predominantly with ritual performance creators, Dana merges ancient spiritual traditions with contemporary storytelling to address pertinent issues such as justice, identity, and the environment. Notably, she's received Izzie awards, including Outstanding Achievement in Visual Design.
Consultant and Cultural Bearer
Dr. Jonathan Cordero (Ramaytush Ohlone, Bay Miwok, Chumash, Cochimi) is the Executive Director of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has written several articles on California Indians during the Mission Period. Dr. Cordero works as a consultant in both the public and private sectors, especially in the arts, and he serves as a leader, speaker, and activist in the broader Ohlone and Chumash communities.
His affiliations also include: Metush (Chair) of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples; Executive Director, Association of Ramaytush Ohlone; Visiting Scholar in the Spatial Sciences Institute at USC; and Steering Committee member, Regional Watershed Management Program.
Consultant and Cultural Bearer
Gregg Castro (t'rowt'raahl Salinan/rumsien-ramaytush Ohlone) is the Culture Director of the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone. He has been involved in preservation of his cultural heritage for nearly three decades, for both his late Mother’s rumsien Ohlone heritage, and on his late Father’s side, the since ended ‘Salinan Nation Tribal Council’ (serving two terms as Tribal Chair) and currently the non-profit organization, Salinan T’rowt’raahl. He is a member of the Society for California Archaeology (SCA). Gregg is a Co-Facilitator for the annual California Indian Conference, a 30+ year gathering about California Indigenous heritage. Gregg is a writer and activist within the California indigenous community on issues regarding cultural preservation, protection, education, and traditional practices.
Founded in 2011, Skywatchers brings artists into durational collaboration with residents of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. We believe that relationship is the first site of social change. Centering resident lives and experiences, the multi-disciplinary, mixed-ability ensemble creates art works that amplify neighborhood stories, interrogating the poverty industrial complex and illuminating narratives too often invisible in our collective cultural production. The Skywatchers Ensemble of Tenderloin residents and artists co-create multi-disciplinary art works that range from formal and site-specific performance, to intervention, ritual, visual art, and multi-media works as part of a long-term community-embedded social practice. Our work has been recognized recently with an Isadora Duncan Dance Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, and the NEA Our Town Award. In addition to our core ensemble, our programs include workshops in SROs, a youth partnership with Larkin Street Youth Services, a health equity collaboration with Faithful Fools and UCSF, as well as partnerships with over a dozen Tenderloin non-profits and community groups. To learn more, visit abdproductions.org.