Online Release Party: Phil Chan’s Book Final Bow for Yellowface Addresses Caricatures of Chinese People in Ballet and Beyond

Final Bow for Yellowface | Phil Chan

Amidst the deluge of streaming dance performance and online dance classes inspired by the coronavirus pandemic, a unique book release party is happening this week. On Friday, March 27th, Phil Chan’s Final Bow for Yellowface: Dancing Between Intention and Impact will be released at retail and there will be an online party at 4 pm EST to match. The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) will be hosting the event and MOCA President Nancy Yao Maasbach will interview Chan. The author will also be reading excerpts from his book, written with Michele Chase, and questions will be taken from the online audience.

You can register for the event, which takes place via Zoom, and preorder Final Bow for Yellowface on the website of the organization launched by Phil Chan and associates.

Final Bow For Yellowface Book Cover

Final Bow for Yellowface: Dancing Between Intention and Impact

Unfortunately, I have only had a chance to read the opening of the book but it reads well and positions the project initially in Chan’s personal experience. He relates seeing an Alexei Ratmansky revival of the original The Sleeping Beauty staged by American Ballet Theatre. While deeply immersed in the performance, he was suddenly taken back by the appearance of a trio of dancers in minor roles that caricatured Chinese people. He tried to brush off his uneasiness but, as he was leaving, he saw two young girls reenacting the caricatures. Chan realized that such a portrayal could no longer be ignored.

This experience led to the creation of a pledge that states:
“I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve diversity among our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff requires inclusion. I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages.”

It also led Chan to both co-found, with Georgina Pazcoguin, the organization Final Bow for Yellowface and to ultimately write this new book that will be available on Friday.

Phil Chan Discusses Yellowface in Ballet

As Chan notes, The Nutcracker ballet may be ground zero for caricatures of Chinese people as well as folks from other backgrounds. The incredibly popular ballet, staged and re-envisioned in multiple forms around the world, has been a focus of his work. As one can see from the media coverage, The Nutcracker is a productive point of emphasis in that it allows Chan and associates to speak to the experiences of many in the dance community.

Combined with the pledge, which has been signed by most major American ballet companies, Final Bow for Yellowface has a readily accessible topic of discussion and a simple first step that should then lead to additional artistic action. And, for those wishing to dig deeper, we now have the book, Final Bow for Yellowface: Dancing Between Intention and Impact.

Related Coverage:
DanceLand’s Nutcracker Posts

Clyde F. Smith

DanceLand founder Clyde F. Smith has a PhD in Cultural Studies from OSU and performs improvisational dance in Working Sessions.