Phil Chan has always expressed himself through dance. But he and his father sat motionless after watching a traditional performance of “The Nutcracker” with Asian caricatures.
“It reminded me that I didn’t belong,” Chan said. “He goes, ‘Do you really want to devote your life to this? This is how they see you, this offensive portrayal of Chinese people.'”
Instead of walking away, the choreographer has taken on a new mission: Ridding ballet of offensive representations, like rice paddy hats, Fu Manchu mustaches and exaggerated makeup, known as yellowface.
“If you only are exposed to Asian people on stage as these flattened caricatures, then it’s really easy to dehumanize us on the streets,” Chan said.
Chan launched the “Final Bow for Yellowface” campaign, getting companies nationwide pledging to eliminate Asian stereotypes.
“I have been made to feel uncomfortable, and there wasn’t a space for me to voice this,” said Asian American dancer and co-founder Georgina Pazcoguin, who has had to perform in yellowface.
For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, “Final Bow” is showcasing the work of 31 Asian choreographers.
“It’s the only way I know how to push back against the ugliness that we’re facing right now is to share hopeful things, to share joy, to share art,” Chan said.