Longtime AGMA dancer Georgina Pazcoguin is here to disrupt the status quo. She is co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface, an author, and the first female AAPI soloist at New York City Ballet.
Pazcoguin’s many NYCB credits include Anita in West Side Story. Her extensive repertory of George Balanchine works includes lead roles in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. Her Broadway Credits include Ivy in the 2014 Revival of On The Town. Georgina originated the role of Victoria the White Cat in the first revival of Cats on Broadway, choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler in 2016.
Ms. Pazcoguin was a recipient of the Mae L. Wien Award for Outstanding Promise in 2002. She is a two-time Chita Rivera Award nominee for outstanding dancer. She is the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Filipinos in America Courage of Conviction Award.
Alicia Cook, AGMA’s Director of Communications, chatted with Georgina about her career, Final Bow for Yellowface, book, and recent award from the Kennedy Center in the latest issue of AGMAzine. Today, we share the article as part of the Union’s AGMAzine Spotlight Series.
Alicia Cook (AC): Thanks for taking the time to talk! Let’s start at the beginning. What is your earliest memory of being drawn to dance? I read that you began training at age four.
Georgina Pazcoguin (GP): Oh, wow. I think the story is I was born in split! Growing up I was very much influenced by the artists I watched on MTV and VH1. Being one of six children, my younger siblings and I were always putting on dancing skits at home after dinner.
AC: Love it. We must know! Why do people refer to you as “The Rogue Ballerina?” What does that moniker mean to you?
GP: I’m not your typical ballerina. Not only am I a multicultural woman of Asian/Italian American heritage, but I am also very outspoken and tend to shatter your ideas of what you thought a ballerina could be. With the word “rogue,” I’m flipping its connotation on its head. I’m saying it’s great to be different. It’s great to take the attributes that people think make you different in a “bad way” and spin them into gold, making you uniquely singular.
AC: Thank you for sharing that. I hope others adopt that outlook! You’ve performed on both ballet stages and on Broadway. How do the experiences differ, as a professional dancer? Do you have a preference?
PG: I’m so lucky to call both communities my home. Honestly, my experience on Broadway has changed my standards on what it feels like to be respected as an adult and artist on every spoke of the creative wheel that gets a Broadway show up and running. In the ballet world, it can feel so segregated being a dancer from the rest of the parts of the machine. And while I don’t feel like the division of the various sectors of a ballet company is done with malice, I do think it is time for us to reevaluate the power dynamics we have always just accepted as the norm.
AC: Do you have an all-time favorite production that you’ve been a part of?
PG: I really loved being a part of the original cast of Russian Seasons by Alexei Ratmansky. It’s so special to have created something that has lasted the test of time and breathed a life of its own. I’d be remiss if I did not mention how special it was to be part of the loving process of bringing Sweet Gwen Suite to stage this past fall for dance. To be seen as your own artist whilst also being able to honor another iconic female dancer and working with an almost all-female team creatively was magical. I owe a debt of gratitude to Nicole Fosse and Linda Haberman for entrusting me with Gwen’s star. And many thanks to New York City Center for giving us an amazing platform to share this tribute.
AC: The importance of “self” and maintaining your own identity seems important to you. You are the co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface, which is committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on stages. Your co-founder is arts administrator and educator Phil Chan. How did this all get off the ground? How did you and Phil first connect?
PG: Phil and I disagree on how and when we connected. I remember a summer course; he remembers reconnecting at a dance gig I was performing at and he was managing in Pennsylvania. As per usual, Phil and I came up with the name Final Bow for Yellowface on a phone call mixed with bad dad jokes and riffing off each other. The initiative was created first. Phil’s book [of the same name] came second. It’s really wonderfully written.
AC: I hope readers check out the book! I read that Final Bow for Yellowface began with a “simple pledge” in 2017. What was the strategy behind that? Did you achieve your goal?
PG: The strategy then and now is to engage with our community. To get others to acknowledge something that needed to end and hold each other accountable for honoring our pledge to change.
AC: You definitely started out strong, given that almost every major American ballet company signed the pledge! That’s amazing. Have you seen actual, tangible change in the industry since they acknowledged the pledge?
PG: Oh yes, change has absolutely occurred not only on American soil but this conversation has gone global with combined effort. But I do think, as a culture, including both opera and dance, we still have a long way to go.
AC: Can you share more about that?
PG: I keep reiterating that this is a commitment to a lifestyle change. The issues are not solved just by checking off boxes, making diversity hires, or making adjustments to offensive costuming and choreography. No, the conversation is ever evolving and it’s humbling and frustrating to experience how much time real change can take.
AC: I noticed the Nutcracker has its own menu item on the yellowface(dot)org website…
PG: I believe Nutcracker is a gateway ballet. Every company large and small and most non balletomanes know of the Nutcracker. It also possibly has the best potential to be a teaching tool for the marvel of diversity for our young children. Presenting Nutcracker from a global lens - giving care to honestly and correctly portray heritage onstage - as opposed to continuing its white Eurocentric narrative and presentation of ethnicity, seemed the most powerful first step for the initiative.
AC: Before I knew anything about ballet, I knew the name Nutcracker.
PG: But Phil and I have moved way beyond the Nutcracker. We are so happy to have inspired change in this ballet and witness its trickledown effect, but now it’s time for us, as a community, to apply this same global lens to Balanchine ballets, other full-lengths and beyond.
AC: The movement’s growth since 2017 is impressive.
PG: We are really happy to announce Gold Standard Arts as the parent foundation that will now umbrella Final Bow. We want to support AAPI voices in all areas of the arts.
AC: Amazing! Congratulations. Since Final Bow for Yellowface, we’ve seen other arts organizations pop up in support of AAPI artists, like the Asian Opera Alliance.
PG: Yes. We are working with Asian Opera Alliance as they get established. The message of Final Bow is applicable in so many other areas of art, not just dance; we are thrilled others are stepping up and taking action in their own fields and want to support that.
AC: You recently were honored at the Kennedy Center, as Final Bow for Yellowface was named a Next 50 Arts Leader by the Kennedy Center. Congratulations! For those who might not know, the Kennedy Center Next 50 identifies 50 leaders and organizations that, through sustained excellence of artistic, educational, athletic, or multi-disciplinary work, uplift society and move us toward a more inspired, inclusive, and compassionate world. Tell us about what this award means to you!
PG: Well, it’s truly lovely to be acknowledged with such wonderful company. And it’s fast-tracked the plan for Gold Standard Arts because it has become more and more apparent that there is a need for a service organization that connects AAPI creatives.
AC: So. You’re a full-time dancer, groundbreaking advocate, and author of Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina. That’s some resume. Did you always set out to release a book?
PG: Not in the slightest. But as I unpacked a lot in my life through the various events of recent years, I became compelled to share my story and my voice. I will continue to tell my stories.
AC: What do you do to protect your wellness and mental health in a hectic, sometimes scary, world?
PG: Sun and water. Alone time to recharge.
AC: What do you hope the future of the professional dance world will look like?
PG: I want ballet to survive well into future generations. We have a long way to go toward ensuring that.
AGMA members are encouraged to check out Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina by Georgina and Pazcoguin and Final Bow for Yellowface by Phil Chan. A lot of what was discussed during this interview is answered in much more depth in those books.
Keep up with Georgina at Pazcoguin.com and on Instagram @Georgina_Pazcoguin.