Hi dance friends. I’m Margaret Fuhrer, editor and producer of The Dance Edit newsletter and podcast, back with another interview episode.
This time we have a returning guest, friend of the pod Phil Chan. Phil is a man of many hats: writer, educator, consultant, choreographer. He is the co-founder, with New York City Ballet soloist Georgina Pazcoguin, of the organization Final Bow for Yellowface, and has been working for years now to improve Asian representation in the dance world.
In 2020 Phil published his first book, Final Bow for Yellowface: Dancing Between Intention and Impact, which described his journey navigating the many issues that emerge from the Chinese dance in The Nutcracker. Now he’s published another book, called Banishing Orientalism, which has a wider scope: it looks at the whole history of Orientalism in ballet. But it doesn’t just condemn everything racist and backward about these older works, though there is certainly much to condemn. Instead, Phil lays out a case for reimagining Orientalist pieces, so that they can engage and speak directly to 21st-century audiences.
The book is a must-read—and like pretty much every interview Phil does, this conversation is a must-listen, too. He is such a knowledgable and perceptive leader in this really hard and really important work. Here he is.
Margaret: Hi Phil, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast!
Phil: Of course, my pleasure! Thank you for having me.
Margaret: So, during our last interview, which was almost two years ago now my gosh, what is time! We got into some of the ideas that you explored in your first book, Final Bow for Yellowface: Dancing Between Intention and Impact. Now you have a new book, Banishing Orientalism, that essentially expands outward from the first. So can you start by talking about the initial impetus for Banishing Orientalism, where it grew from?
Phil: Yeah, this book feels like The Empire Strikes Back, if the first book is Star Wars, it’s just like a little, it’s a little darker, it hits a little harder. There’s a lot more research in it as well. It really came out of this experience I had at the Pennsylvania Ballet where, you know, here is this like, company that’s trying to do La Bayadère, which is like the pinnacle of classism. It’s like really this defining ballet for many companies that says like, we’re of a certain caliber, because we can do this well, you know, and that is like the gold standard. To see that it was being presented for an audience with one of the highest South Asian expanding populations in the United States—that’s the audience, the local audience you’re trying to build. And they have this majority white company—not saying not diverse, but majority white company—pretending to be Indian people, casually depicting Hinduism, Buddhism, and also just all of the exotic tropes that come with that. Just really realizing that like, okay, so this is going to be a problem for our industry. Like, how do we save works like La Bayadère that have this intrinsic value, beautiful choreography, beautiful music, and it’s so important for the next generation of dancers to keep dancing, right? Because if you don’t know where we’ve come from as a tradition, how do we know where we’re going? How do we innovate in the art form and break the art form and push it forward if we don’t understand our own past and our own clichés and where we’ve already explored creatively?
At the same time, pretending that we present these works under the guise of tradition, when we’re trying to court a multiracial audience and present these works for a multi-racial generation, those two things aren’t congruent, right? So, we can’t pretend that our work, which is from Europe, stays Eurocentric. The creative challenge for our field is, how do we expand into thinking for a multiracial audience, while preserving the parts of the ballets that are a really important part of our heritage, like the steps and the music? So that’s inherently the challenge.
I really like to think of this work as the opposite of cancel culture, right? Because like, if you’re saying, hey, get rid of it, we’re losing so much. But what I’m saying is, hey, we still can do it, because we need the income from the audiences that are already going to buy tickets for it, and let’s use that money to commission a new work by an underrepresented choreographer. But that can be part of the ecosystem, there can be room for both. And we frankly need to. But how can we still shift these ballets to include non-Europeans, including white Americans?
So that was the impetus for the book itself. Then I was also fortunate to have a fellowship at the New York Public Library as a Jerome Robbins fellow. I wanted to ask—there were so many ballets that I came across, that are set in the Orient. Stories set in the exotic Middle East, India, China, Japan, etc. I just want to know—there were so many! Why? Why was that so attractive? What was going on in the world that made that so appealing? Also, what did it serve for ballet? Like, how did all of these oriental stories serve ballet as an art form? What did we gain from them? As opposed to just saying, God, this whole thing is racist, which, you know, it can be both, right? So, I wanted to look a little bit deeper at some of these issues, and not just see it as a black and white issue, but like, look at the history and the context to add a little bit more nuance to the repertory, the ballets that we continue to perform, that are literally over 100 years old, and why we do it, and for whom do we do it for? And just to think a little bit bigger and more creatively, especially around issues of race.
Margaret: Yeah, your book has, as part of its central thesis, an idea that was new and surprising to me and I think probably a lot of ballet folks: that Orientalism was, in fact, a major creative generator in the arts and in ballet specifically. It sounds like discovering that in your research even surprised you a little bit too.
Phil: Yeah, I think it’s so easy being from a culture that is seen as exotic, right? I’m from Hong Kong, and so that automatically evokes a certain perfume, and there are many people who are from Hong Kong you know, but to me it’s just home, right? So, I’m used to having a slightly different center. So, thinking about that appeal of innovation, you know, I came to that after having to deal with my own discomfort of “Oh, this feels really racist” or “Oh, this makes me feel like this is about me or my culture, and I definitely don’t belong. It’s not for me”—it makes you feel kind of icky. Especially if you really love the art form, to then see like caricatures, yellowface or, you know, Orientalist portrayals of your heritage that don’t feel right.
So, getting over that initial discomfort, I think that the first impulse is like, burn the whole thing down, you know? That is where, you know, you have to confront that anger and that resentment and that discomfort and move beyond that and say, okay what are we actually looking at on a deeper level here? Let’s not assume any intention. Let’s just look at what it is and what the time was, and what was possible, just with the larger world at that time. I think when you start to look at that level of nuance, you can find solutions for, not only what is worth keeping, but how to move forward in this moment, right? Because if you just study history, ballet has changed throughout the centuries. It used to be done in court, or in the ballroom, it used to be done just by men. So, the fact that it has moved to where it is now, where you can have site-specific outdoor ballet performances, with brown people and women, that is radical in itself as an evolution, right? From the Baroque dances of the highest noble people of Europe. So that’s the evolution that we’re watching happen. So how do we get more people involved in this art form, and that is what I’m interested in.
Margaret: Yeah, and the more you love it, the angrier one feels. It’s sort of like, and then how do you channel righteous anger into something productive because you love it? Yeah. I was especially interested in this idea that because these, heavy quotation marks, “exotic” settings allowed for the subversion of norms of the time about gender and sex and politics. In some respects, these stories are actually more modern than other stories from the 19th century ballet canon, like, women end up having a lot more agency in some Orientalist ballets than say, Aurora does. Although then they all die, in the end.
Phil: Yeah, they do have to be punished.
Margaret: They must be punished, right. [laughter] But so, we have reached a point where it is clear or rather, thanks in no small part to your efforts and to Georgina’s efforts, it’s becoming increasingly clear to most people that Orientalism is overtly harmful, it’s rotting, it is no longer a productive creative medium. You spend a lot of the book talking about how to figure out what parts of these ballets are worth saving and what parts we need to let go. This is a subject that you teach now too, you’ve taught at Carleton College and beyond. So, acknowledging that I’m asking you to paraphrase, essentially, a large swath of your book, what do you see as the key criteria in that process?
Phil: I mean, it’s, it’s actually quite simple. I mean, my favorite question that I talked about in the book is, What else could it be? So, you know, when you’re a little kid, like a pen, it’s not just a pen, it’s a sword, or a spaceship, or a magic wand. Then at some point, you’re told, “Hey, grow up, stop pretending, get it together.” But as artists, we need to have that part of our playful, childlike nature still engaged. That’s where creativity and innovation come from. So even if you’re not a dancer, you might be a scientist or a lawyer or a doctor, if you innovate in your field, then that’s part of your work. Being in touch with that creative part of your brain is so important.
So, that comes back to this question of what else could it be, seeing potential from a slightly different point of view. So, when you’re taking a work like La Bayadère, for example, which I’m working on staging a production for Indiana University. First of all, the processes were like, what is worth saving? Why do people love it? In the case of La Bayadère, it’s the incredible choreography, notably for the Kingdom of the Shades, but there’s also a lot of fun stuff in the rest of the ballet too. Also, the music that goes with it, right? You can’t have the choreography divorced from the music. So, you know, that sort of has to fit too.
So, starting from there, those are the constraints. So then within those constraints, what else could it be? So, I’m working with the brilliant musicologist and dance notation expert, Doug Fullington. We’re basically going back to the Stepanov dance notation that’s part of the collection at the Houghton Library at Harvard, which I had the incredible pleasure of handling myself, like literally in the library, like turning the pages of this dance notation, which is wild. But starting with the dance notation as a framework, and actually stripping away a lot of the later Soviet additions to the ballet. So, putting it at sort of a faster, more upbeat tempo that it originally was. Going back to those steps, those 19th century steps, and they look kind of fresh and interesting. Like it’s just really, it’s a different way of looking at a dance within this framework.
And we’re also restaging the dances with the context of, it’s going to take place in sort of 1920s Hollywood, which was a golden age of the Hollywood movie musical. They’re filming a dude ranch, sort of a cowboy musical, right? So, sort of like Girl Crazy, you know—Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, so a lot of fringe, a lot of Americana. There’s also this like backstage drama that’s happening. If you imagine, you know, paralleling to Singing in the Rain, if, you know, if Debbie Reynolds is Nikiya and Solor is Gene Kelly and Lena Lamont is Gamzatti. And so you have an excuse for dances that work, and you have a congruent story that fits the dances and the libretto.
So, finding a way to do this where it’s like, it doesn’t have to be about Indian people, it can be about us, and it can be appropriate for a multiracial cast. So, any dancer can play any role, and it’s not weird. Also, anyone in the audience can come to see this work and say, ‘Oh, I see myself in this character or in this part.’ So, what else can it be? That is the process.
So, for example, we are including the Bronze Idol, even though that’s a sort of a 1940s, Soviet edition, but it’s just so fun. We just couldn’t resist. So, think about, what is a Hollywood bronze idol?
Margaret: An Oscar statuette?
Phil: Right! Yeah, so we’re going to have a dancing Oscar, and the little children who usually dance around him in blackface, they’re going to be little studio executives, so like little boys and tuxedos, and like, you know, little mustaches and kind of doing these funny gestures and sort of dancing around the Oscar. It has that impact of like, wow, this is not only beautiful and fun dancing, but it’s also like, it’s fun. It’s supposed to be fun. That’s originally what it was supposed to be, it was supposed to be entertaining. So, we can also do that, and still have the melodrama of the ballet supported.
We’re also working with a man named Larry Moore, who’s a brilliant musicologist. He does a lot of the orchestration for like the Cole Porter estate, Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein. And he’s restaging the Minkus score to be in that sort of big band jazz, American musical style. You know, and so Kingdom of the Shades is going to sound like a Busby Berkeley film, where all the women are in white and silver like art deco. And, you know, Solor’s in, instead of a turban right, black tails, you know, and it’s the same thing. That’s the impact on us when you see that is the same. And it’s a way so that anybody of any race can play any part and it’s not weird. And, yeah, it’s just a better way to keep the dancing alive. And that makes it exciting and fresh. And no one is canceling Petipa and Minkus, where we’re honoring what it is, but also making it part of ours, you know, and that’s how we keep this art form alive, right? That’s that balance.
Margaret: You also mentioned in the book and idea that you have for reimagining Corsaire, which is, in many ways, even more problematic. And I’m wondering if you can talk a little about that too, just because talking about these ideas for transpositions just illustrates all the ideas you get into in your book so directly.
Phil: I love Corsaire. I love humor, and I feel like we need more of it in our art form, especially like coming out of this pandemic. Like let’s just tell some jokes, right? Yeah, come on, guys. If you look at ballet history, again, like we have these like very serious ballets like Giselle and Swan Lake, these are dramatic tragedies, you know, Romeo and Juliet. But like, there’s also a side of ballet that is very camp, very vaudeville, sometimes stupid, like slapstick, like, it’s entertaining, and it’s fun. And that’s a part that we forget, because sometimes those ballets aren’t handed down. And Corsaire is one of those ballets that is like, it’s supposed to be funny. It’s supposed to be over the top, and you’re seeing a brilliant ballet, and that’s the point.
So, starting from that place, Doug and I are looking at, what is it? Sort of a harem fantasy, right? It’s sort of like, swashbuckling. So like, what’s our version of that? How do we make that about us? So, our version takes place at the Miss Oceans Beauty Pageant at the Pirates Cove casino in Atlantis Beach. So, this place is sort of a mix of Las Vegas and Monte Carlo, this looks like this sort of casino town, and a beauty pageant is like such a great way to showcase all of these dances, right? You can have pink flamingo odalisques, right, you can have beauty queens, you can have show girls, and you can also kind of roll your eyes at the whole thing and not take it so seriously, right? An odalisque finishes her variation, and because she has to dance for the Pasha, who in our production is the owner of the casino and the organizer of the beauty pageant—
Margaret: Familiar character.
Phil: Right, but also in our version will be played by a woman. So, it’ll be like playing a male character, in travesty. So again, as a female performer, is able to turn up the sexism and make it really crude, and we all know it’s a woman. It then becomes, instead of like a judgment on Arab men and like saying, like, oh, well he’s a horny Arab, and he’s expanding his harem and because that’s what horny Arab men do and that’s why they’re savage—instead, it’s a mirror on ourselves, saying like, hey, men in the audience, don’t be gross. Like, we’re laughing at the chauvinist, the entire audience: Gentlemen, don’t be gross. Right? And so, you’re taking this sort of racist, sexist depiction from the 1870s, and suddenly, it’s about us, and the joke’s on us. And it’s also fun and funny and uncomfortable. And all of those things can happen at the same time. And that makes interesting art. Right?
So really going for that camp factor, but yeah, they’re pirates. So what are they? They’re sort of gangsters and beauty queens and show girls, and there are speedboat chases, and jewelry heists, and you know, like, everything you’d expect in that story, which is exactly what Le Corsaire is as a work. So honoring that, but also avoiding the idea of saying like, Okay, well, you know, here we have Misty Copeland, the first African American principal ballerina, dancing the part of the happy slave on Juneteenth, you know, at America’s national company. That’s a clear example that it doesn’t work for a multiracial audience when we do the Eurocentric version—that doesn’t work for us. It doesn’t work for white people in America, either, white Americans who don’t identify as Europeans, right? I’m German American, I’m Irish American, but I don’t identify as European. So, let’s stop pretending, let’s make this work about us if we want it to survive for us.
Margaret: And in doing so, bring it sort of in line with a lot more of the other contemporary art that’s happening. I mean, social commentary cloaked in humor—that’s a mode that we see all over the cultural content we consume.
Phil: Since the dawn of time!
Margaret: But it’s like we’ve forgotten that ballet can do that, and it’s actually really good at it. Because it’s—naturally there are elements of camp inside of ballet.
Phil: And there’s no words. So, I’m not saying it, but I’m saying it, right? Because there’s no words and whatever meaning you attach to the gestures, the phrases, that’s how it works, right. So, one example of that is in our Bayadère, you know, there’s a scene at the top of the ballet, where Solor points to his heart, and he points to the heavens with two fingers. And Nikiya sort of grabs his hand and is kind of shy about it. And like, if you do not know ballet, what does that mean? What does that mean? And then now I’m sitting here and I’m thinking, God, everybody else in the audience is sort of nodding along, and I don’t know what it means and that I must be stupid. And I’m the dumb one. And oh my god, now I’m worried about being the dumb one. I’ve now missed 10 minutes of the ballet, because I’m sitting here worried that I didn’t get it. And now I really don’t get it. And who’s this person now? Like, oh, I should just leave at intermission. I’m just so embarrassed. And this is not for me.
And literally, in our Bayadère, Sol goes up to Niki, And he gets down on one knee, and he pulls out a ring. And he proposes to her, he says, like, I’m going to love you forever. And she blushes but you know, she’s like she’s being proposed to, and everybody in the audience gets that, gets that gesture, it conveys the same meaning. And it’s not from this archaic mime that only a few of us who’ve studied it, and who go to the ballet a lot, and you know, probably read through a program or figured it out. We’re the only people who get it. When it’s such a universal feeling we’re trying to get people to feel, right? And so, we have to meet our audiences in a place that they will really understand the stories we’re trying to tell.
Margaret: Alright, so my next question is heading in a little bit of a different direction. In the book, you discuss how non-white choreographers, yourself included, come up against this kind of catch 22, where there’s this expectation that what sets you apart as an artist is your experience as a member of a particular non-white racial or cultural group. And sometimes you might want to include elements of your own cultural experience in your work, because that can help other people see more clearly. But then that also pigeonholes you in a way that white artists never have to worry about. Can you talk a little more about that?
Phil: Yeah, it just feels like—and again, this is where there are parallels with other non-white artists in the form, is like, if you do something from that is deeply inspired from your heritage, you’re seen as sort of like an ethnic choreographer and pigeonholed in that way. And if you do things in any traditionally white form—so if I did Baroque dance or worked in a style like Balanchine-esque or Jerome Robbins-esque, I would be seen as derivative, as opposed to continuing a line or continuing a trajectory of historical conversation. So other artists can be seen as continuing, you know, what Balanchine was doing. But as a person of color you’re seen as, oh, you’re just ripping off Balanchine.
And so, I think that’s part of the catch 22 is like, you know, when we try to dance like you, like we’re seen as, trying to copy you. And when we dance our own way, we’re only seen in that way. And I think where the way to break out of that is to, as artists, and we should be doing this anyway. So, I think it’s a good motivator, is to just break some of those expectations.
So as an artist, how can I say things differently? Okay, so you’re expecting a bamboo dance from me. So how can I play with that, and make something that will get you to think? I’m already going to make a dance, so how can I also do that? And that’s a way to use elements from my own culture and subvert them, while teasing you as an audience member.
So, there are other ways to respond to your own culture and heritage. We have to remember culture is, it’s—we’re literally having this experience, we’re responding to what people said on the last page, we’re sort of all collectively writing a book together. And we’re just picking up the story now because we’re the living ones. And we’re also responding to how people did things in the past, right, that’s what the conversation is. So, it’s meant to be shared, it’s meant to be questioned, it’s meant to be broken up and put together. And you know that process is part of how culture works, it’s just, it’s a little bit harder when you’re working across racial lines, and there’s a dynamic, that historic dynamic that makes that feel unequal or imbalanced. So, I think that’s something that also, you know, choreographers of any race are starting to be more aware of, which is nice. So, finding pride, but also sensitivity. And also, collaboration, that’s a great way to work across these cultural lines too.
Margaret: Yeah, now you’re starting to answer my next question, which is a related question that you explore toward the end of the book, about who should be “allowed” to tell what stories. Like, is it best to avoid the issue of cultural appropriation by only having people from a particular community create art about that community? Or do we lose something by following that kind of rule?
Phil: Yeah, I think it’s really challenging. I’m directing a production of Madame Butterfly for Boston Lyric Opera that opens this September, and I’m setting it in the 1940s. So, keeping the Puccini score—again, the same process, keeping the Puccini score, but setting in the 1940s, in California, so really tackling head on the issue of Japanese incarceration as a theme in the opera. And yeah, how do I tell that story when it’s not my story? I’m Chinese, I’m not Japanese. This didn’t affect me personally, in any way. But also, it does affect me as an American, this is an important part of American history. And also, if we relied on the burden of saying, well, only Japanese Americans can tell this story, then what if a Japanese American person doesn’t want to tell that story? What if they want to tell jokes instead, you know, but there’s a responsibility that only they can talk about this story? So, I think, you know, just from a larger human perspective, it’s important that we recognize stories like Japanese incarceration, like the Holocaust, and not put the burden on just to those people to keep having to keep those stories alive. It’s all of our responsibilities. At the same time, I don’t have the lived experience to be fully sensitive to what some of the issues are the boundaries around this conversation. And so, a lot of my collaborators are Japanese, Japanese American, and primarily women, because this was a process that I really wanted to get their input and questioning how we approach this opera.
So, in order to collaborate, you know, having an open mind having a curiosity about it, and having a willingness to collaborate and make space for other people to put what they see in their experiences into the living performance that we’re putting on together—I think that process is a way to cross some of those cultural lines with integrity. So yeah, just really trying to practice what I preach. But also articulate that for other people who aren’t part of other cultures, and they really want to tell stories that involve characters from other places and should be able to, but what is the added sensitivity that we need to do that with integrity? And that’s what the sort of second half of the book really tries to talk about.
Margaret: You have been really busy as a choreographer recently. And while acknowledging the catch 22 we were talking about earlier, it seems like your work as an activist has sort of spurred you creatively as a choreographer as well—I mean, even just to do more of it. Is that the case?
Phil: Yeah, I think it’s just, I’m able to open doors for other people and step through them myself as well. And that’s, I think, a big part of my own philosophy. And the response to the shooting in Atlanta last year, Gina and I sort of transitioned Final Bow for Yellowface into being more of a service organization for Asian American creatives. So, bringing together a fantastic board of other leaders, who had ideas for what the community needs. So, in terms of programming, in terms of support, in terms of professional development, networking. Creating that, that hub for our community to get involved.
And so that’s, that’s sort of the foundation of our work, you know, getting commissions for Asian choreographers. There were very few choreographers of Asian descent for many of the major ballet companies. Now many of them have, within the last five years, have now hired their first, sometimes their second Asian choreographer, many of them women, which is really great. So, you know, my own work, there’s some things that I can say in books, some things now I’m saying in opera, and some things have to come out in choreography, and it all revolves around this same theme of shifting this art form for more people. And what does that look like? So, you know, that’s the common thread in all of my work, whether it’s dance, whether it’s, you know, opera, whether it’s writing, that’s the question, because that’s what I see as how we keep this form alive for the next generation, we have to also evolve it.
Margaret: There’s often a sort of stiffness to discussions about race and representation. People tend to treat the subject with great formality to avoid any perception that they’re being disrespectful. But I love the playfulness and humor in your book. I mean, just like we need more playfulness in ballet on stage, we need more playfulness in our conversations about it. That was my read on it. But can you talk a little about why you made that choice?
Phil: Yeah, I think it’s, there’s a heaviness to race. And so, it’s not that it’s not serious, but it’s hard to listen when it feels heavy. And so, can you achieve the same goals with humor instead, or with a lightness? Sometimes it feels like, you know, “ugh, diversity work,” or like, “ugh, now we have to go listen to this marginalized group tell this other story,” and it’s hard. And how do we avoid that feeling, and encourage people to say, no, listen, this is going to help you be better, this is going to make you a better listener, this is going to make you better at your job, you know, more efficient, better at dealing with people, better with dealing with customers? Like this is an opportunity, this the chance for creativity, right? What if we framed it that way?
When you’re also in this mindset of heaviness—or scared, you’re scared because you don’t want to say the wrong thing, you don’t want to be canceled—you aren’t open minded, you’re not creative, you’re not listening as well, you’re not as malleable, able to learn, able to absorb, able to change, as if you come from an open place, right. And you know, dancers know this as performers, right? Like if you are stiff and tight and clenching, you’re not going to have a beautiful show. So much of our work is about loosening and stretching and expanding and being open. And so that is the approach that it takes to have these conversations. And so, humor is a great way to disarm people, it’s a great way to be vulnerable, and share vulnerability, which is what it takes to be a better listener and to do this work. So that’s what I try to do. If I could put that in writing, you know, it makes it a lot easier. That’s my approach. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Margaret: And this is this is a related question. This is not an angry book, even though it has, you know, sort of every right to be angry, and there is obviously a lot of anger and frustration in it. But it’s a fundamentally hopeful book. It’s a work of optimism.
Phil: God, I hope so. I’m glad.
Margaret: Well, in that vein, I wanted to close with the same question that I actually asked you last time we talked, at the end. At this point, what makes you feel hopeful about the future of Asian representation in ballet?
Phil: Oh, I guess what makes me hopeful is finally seeing action in places. I also see a lot of really gross things still, behaviors, resistance to change, some personal ugliness, that is lobbed my way as well. So, there is this still dark side, the strain, the personal burnout and strain of having to do the work on a personal level, you know, is very real.
But seeing so many companies step up to the plate, so many companies now are listening. The next generation of dancers are listening, and they’re asking questions, and they’re seeing the problems. And they want the vocabulary, and they want the tools to have these conversations. How do I talk to my director about this? I know this is racist, or I know this doesn’t feel right, or I don’t know how to talk about this. So, to put some of that into words, and know that that’s hopefully making a difference, is hopeful.
You know, we’re seeing more Asian choreographers, we’re seeing less interest in the Orientalist rep. I mean, our production of Bayadère is the only production in North America since 2020. Right? So, like, it, you know, it’s otherwise canceled, you know, except we’re trying to do it. And so, again, coming back to this opposite of cancel culture, but being given the opportunity and the resources and the time for people to say, yes, we’re listening, and we’re going to make space for Asian artists and this art form as well, and not just do yellowface in The Nutcracker. I mean, that was the first step, that was the sort of lowest hanging fruit, but now really looking at Orientalism, you know, in this way, and this compound history, and seeing so clearly that if our art form can really embrace diversity, there’s so much creative potential for audiences, for new forms, new films, VR, new ways of building audiences, new places for dance, that we might not have ever dreamed of if we’re stuck in the opera houses of Europe, mentally, right?
And so, I’m seeing that change. I’m seeing my community have more opportunities. And I’m seeing a community coming together around this work in a way that I don’t think the Asian community has before. So just like, I’m in the trenches with so many other people who have taken this so deeply as part of their work, that gives me hope, is this community. So yeah, thank you for having me, Margaret.
Margaret: Well, thank you so much for coming on. In the show notes will, of course, include all the information about how to get a copy of banishing Orientalism and some information about all the many projects that you mentioned over the course of our conversation. If this is your Empire Strikes Back, is there going to be a Return of the Jedi?
Phil: Yeah, I already started working on book three, which is probably about Butterfly, definitely about Butterfly. I think it’s going to be a lot more first person, so more like the second half of Final Bow for Yellowface—like, this is my story engaging with this work. So probably a little less history, so it might be a little faster. This book, Banishing Orientalism, took two and a half years! So this is definitely going to be a lot more fun.
Margaret: Well, looking forward to reading that. Thank you so much Phil.
Phil: Yep, thank you Margaret!
Another big thank-you to Phil. In the show notes, as promised, we have links with more information about Banishing Orientalism and about Phil’s upcoming projects.
And thanks to all of you for listening. We’ll be back next week with a headline rundown episode, discussing the dance world’s recent news stories. Until then, keep learning, keep advocating, and keep dancing.