Questioning Society through Movement

photo by    Inez Moro

photo by Inez Moro

An Interview with Artist, Chloe Calderon Chotrani

Tell me about the dance work that you make. Can you give a little insight into your approach to creating?

I work with the intersection of choreography, community engagement and curation. I think our responsibility is to reflect the contemporary struggle of the public. I am representing communities of color, women, and immigrants. Even my body size, I am petite, which is doesn’t always fit the pre-requisite for social constructs of a “dancer’s body”. I use that as a form of empowerment and the underlying voice that I’ve been carrying through the past years is finding power in softness.

Right now I feel it’s essential to be more vocal. There is no more neutrality. As artists, as activists, as people, as citizens in general, we have a responsibility to be aware and be proactive. Movement, dance and the arts are a powerful medium because they cross through sensations, cultures and language. 

The reason why I feel such an affinity with dance and movement is because I think we forget how our bodies mirror nature; we’re both made of the same material. We can see and think with our chest and our pelvis and our palms and our feet. We tend to become so caught up in our cerebral brain that we forget that there is kinesthetic intelligence; the body can reveal to us our heritage and our history. 

How would you describe the dance that you do?

Our generation is culturally hybrid. Even ballet has a history of indigenous forms. Everyone has their own language but not everyone is willing to dig deep and discover it. I started with ballet, then shifted to street dance for 12 years, then expanded with contemporary dance forms. At this point, I am thinking beyond the idea of genre and categories and I am more interested in excavating what my body has to offer. That’s when your own language reveals itself. It’s interesting discovering movement intuitively rather than externally. From that research you discover nuances that are so particular to your culture. For example, I’ve never studied a classical Indian dance form but in my movement there are certain Indian or Asian philosophies that reveal themselves.

Do you believe that dance connects with social justice?

Dance is how you continue culture and it is part of how you create culture. It’s a language of the human spirit. That is what social justice is; it’s about humanity. Dance is not always done with that intention, but it has the potential to be used towards justice, just like any other medium of work.

Do you consider yourself and activist?

Yes. I think we all should be! Some will be more politically active but others can activate space in their own way, starting in their own backyard.

Tell me about your piece, Unfair and Lovely and what inspired its creation? 

This was a culmination of the choreographic process I did at Gibney Dance. Unfair and Lovely is a transgression against an Indian whitening cream called Fair and Lovely. It is popular all over India, Africa and Asia – in subtle ways, it changes the mentality of people to desire to be white and to see white as a more sophisticated class. Unfair and Lovely was a social campaign started by two Indian women and a photographer, Pax Jones. I approached Pax and I said I want to turn your campaign into a performance piece that celebrates melanin.

Growing up in metro Manilla, driving down the highway, billboards would show this papaya whitening cream. All the magazines would show females with white skin and I thought, that’s not what we look like. For this performance, I gathered South Asian females and I asked them provocative questions on how they experienced race as children. Instead of asking them to answer verbally, I asked them to answer through movement. I filmed it, gathered Southeast Asian advertisements and showed the short film during the performance.

I also presented a political cartoon that reflects the forgotten US-Filipino relations. Filipino's First Bath published on June 10, 1899 on the cover of Judge magazine. President McKinley scrubs a Filipino baby with a brush labeled “education” in the cleansing waters of “civilization”. This striking image reflects how people perceive brown and black as dirty or “primitive”. I find it to be important to voice these ideas, rather than shoving them under the rug. 

What do you hope to change or achieve through your work?

We have to question what is happening out there. This is just another method of questioning how we move through the world and questioning the structures of society.

What do you think is important for more people to know about dance? 

It’s important for people to know that the body is a vessel of knowledge; it holds our blood memory, our history and our heritage. We can tap into that knowledge through movement. It’s a way of connecting to a transcendent force; that’s how you experience embodiment. Pleasure is complex, especially for females. Society sometimes teaches females to be shameful, or that pleasure is deemed as negative, especially in Asian cultures. To resist present day social constructs, sometimes allowing yourself to find pleasure in effort is enough – movement is one of the many ways we can find pleasure in our body and to feel good about ourselves. 

Learn more about Chloe Calderon Chotrani and her work. 

photo by    Tarish Zamora

photo by Tarish Zamora

Chloe is a movement artist based in Singapore, born in the Philippines. She works with the intersection of choreography, curation and community. Holding the responsibility to reflect contemporary struggles of decolonization, race relations and feminism through workshop, media and performance. She works with the belief that artistic skills should be integrated with society as way of survival, sustainability and spirituality. Chloe has competed locally and internationally in the Philippines and Las Vegas and has performed with B Supreme in London, at Gibney Dance and Movement Research in New York and at Ecole Des Sables in Senegal. Chloe holds a Post-graduate Diploma in Asian Art History from School of Oriental and African Studies, London. She finds that cross-cultural conversations are essential to reveal aspects of humanity through her work and her life.