Performing Diaspora Curators

 2012 – 2014 Performing Diaspora Curators

Lily Kharrazi works at Alliance for California Traditional Arts, managing the Living Cultures Grants Program and the Traditional Arts Roundtable Series since 2005. She has been an advocate of culturally-specific art genres in the Bay Area for three decades. Lily has a degree in Dance Ethnology, training under pioneer of the field, Allegra Fuller Snyder, at UCLA. She worked with the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival from 1991-2003, where as program director she crafted nine seasons of work. Her interests in the intersection of arts and social justice began with her work in refugee resettlement.
She serves as an adjudicator and consultant to local, regional, and national arts and culture foundations. Dance as a first love informs all her passions: She has studied and performed numerous styles of world dance, including Yemenite, Balinese, Balkan, and Haitian. She has recently found yoga and is an avid practitioner.

Roko Kawai is an independent dancer/choreographer/teacher/writer and currently also serves as Performing Arts Coordinator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Guest Lecturer at San Francisco State University. As a dancer/choreographer, she has performed nationally in venues throughout Philadelphia, as well as in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Hawaii, New York, Chicago, and at the Florida Dance Festival and Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out.  Her international dance work includes collaborations in Bali, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Japan. She was awarded The Pew Fellowship on the Arts for Choreography in 2003 and the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Fellowship in 2005. In 2009, as part of a Leeway Transformation Award, Roko began exploring traumatic grief and the dancer’s body, and she traveled to Cambodia to observe how dance is preserved and practiced in the aftermath of genocide. In 2010, Roko published Belonging and Solo: An Artist’s Workbook, produced by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, featuring images and writings from her extended dance research in both Japan and the U.S., and themes of personal longing and belonging, and the stillness required in mourning:

Deeply invested in the dialogue between innovation and tradition, Roko’s own dance work explores the specificity of classical Japanese dance vis-à-vis the craft of post-modern improvisation.  Having had the pleasure of helping to launch the pilot phase of Performing Diaspora as its coordinator in 2009, Roko looks forward to supporting the festival this year as one of its curators!

Umi Vaughan is an artist and anthropologist who explores dance, creates photographs and performances, and publishes about African Diaspora culture. He has conducted extensive anthropological research in Cuba about Afro-Cuban music and dance, and created numerous scholarly presentations, art exhibits, and cultural events in the U.S. and abroad. He holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Michigan. His photographic work has been commissioned for the permanent collection of Alameda County and the City of Oakland. Dr. Vaughan is the author of Carlos Aldama’s Life in Batá: Cuba, Diaspora, and the Drum (Indiana University Press) and Rebel Dance, Renegade Stance: Timba Music and Black Identity in Cuba (University of Michigan Press). Vaughan is currently Associate Professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Monterey Bay. He created an innovative new course called Afro Cuba Hip Hop: Music and Dance in the Black Atlantic about the social history and actual practice of music/dance styles from throughout the African Diaspora. To learn more visit

A Special Thanks to The Following Nominators:

Tyese Wortham, Vanesa Camarena Arredondo, Stella Adelman, Rob Taylor, Wayne Hazzard, Marina Drummer, Denise Pate Pearson, Sherwood Chen, Laura Elaine Ellis, Amara Tabor-Smith, Devendra Sharma, Charlotte Moraga, Ana Maria Alvarez, Dulce Capadocia, Danica Sena Gakovich, Sri Susilowati, Sylvia Sherman, Isabel Yrigoyen, Dohee Lee, Frances Phillips, Vanessa Vo, Alleluia Panis, Deborah Vaughan, Mildred Howard,

2009 – 2010 Performing Diaspora Curators

Photo by Rick ChapmanSherwood Chen is Associate Director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts (ACTA), and has worked in festival production, youth arts programming, arts grantmaking, and community arts, working for organizations including the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, The San Francisco Foundation and the Music Center Education Division. As a performer, Chen has worked with artists including Grisha Coleman/Echo::System, Anna Halprin, inkBoat/Shinichi Iova-Koga, Amara Tabor-Smith, Oguri, Do Hee Lee, and Sara Shelton Mann. He was a resident member of Min Tanaka’s performance collective Maijuku in rural Japa. Chen leads Body Weather Laboratory movement research training originally developed by Tanaka. He currently serves as a member of the City of Oakland Cultural Funding Advisory Committee, and as a board member of Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco, and Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach / Phnom Penh.

Laura Elaine EllisLaura Elaine Ellis is a dancer, choreographer and producer. Presently, she is Executive Director of the African and African American Performing Arts Coalition (AAAPAC) – a San Francisco based, non-profit organization, founded in 1995 by a collective of artists looking to create better performance opportunities for and produce shows that reflect the aesthetic and cultural representation of Africans and African Americans. As AAAPAC’s executive director, Laura Elaine Ellis has co-produced successful events such as the Labor of Love Dance Series, The Quilt Project: Pieces of Me, and currently the Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now. The Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now is a community event of dance concerts, symposia, mentoring programs and workshops celebrating the legacy and artistry of African and African American choreographers.Funding awards for AAAPAC projects include: The Creative Work Fund, The Irvine Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission, The San Francisco Foundation, the Walter & Elise Haas Fund and the Zellerbach Family Foundation.

Debbie SmithDebbie Smith, Cultural Program Coordinator for San Francisco’s Arab Cultural and Community Center, has a Bachelor of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. From 2001 to 2007, Debbie worked for Dance Brigade’s Dance Mission Theater, a multicultural dance school and theater in San Francisco’s Mission district where she oversaw daily operations of the school and theater, as well as programming the theater’s spring and fall seasons and coordinating all aspects of production and publicity, serving dancers, choreographers, technicians and other artists from a wide range of dance styles and backgrounds. Currently she works full time at the Arab Cultural and Community Center on cultural program development, event management, grant writing, and publicity and marketing. She works with Arab and Arab-American performing and visual artists of all genres. An active member of the San Francisco arts community, she has participated in a number of panels and committees relating to dance, arts funding and advocacy, and other related subjects, in addition to both freelance and volunteer stage management, production assistance and consultation for a number of San Francisco artists and venues. Since 2005 she has been a member of Al-Juthoor Palestinian Folk Dance Company. She continues to read and study widely in the fields of dance history and ethnology, ethnomusicology, and performance studies.