Chantal Loïal, director of the French dance company Dife Kako, choreographed “Chateau Rouge” to tackle the uncomfortable realities presented by Eurocentric ideals of beauty in the Parisian neighborhood Chateau Rouge. A station of the Paris Métro, Chateau Rouge is notorious for its multicultural shops, many of which cater to women of African descent. 

However, several of the products sold in the shops pose lethal health concerns, as they often use poisonous chemicals to whiten skin or straighten hair. 

Dife Kako was invited to campus as a part of the College’s Studies in Beauty Initiative, which seeks to discuss the issues of beauty and aesthetics across various disciplines. “Chateau Rouge,” which features traditional African and Caribbean dances set to multicultural melodies, intends to illuminate the unconscious “whitenization” of black women in the predominantly African and Caribbean neighborhood of Paris through the use of historical context.

According to Loïal, the bonds of slavery that once linked Africa, the Caribbean and Europe have developed into a new and more subtle form of slavery that still exists today. 

“It is true that colonization and slavery had aftermaths, and one of the many aftermaths is precisely this one: identity distortion,” said Hanetha Vete-Congolo, associate professor of romance languages and literatures and one of the faculty coordinators of the event.

“Chateau Rouge” features a multicultural composition of performance elements. Because the neighborhood itself has a diverse population, Loïal wanted to integrate global influences into the performance. Some performances incorporate foundational African and Caribbean dance steps with heavy influence from the French regions of Martinique and Guadeloupe, while others integrate European words and text with a diverse array of music. Loïal also incorporates many different sounds, ranging from African music out of Nigeria and Cape Verde, Central Africa drum music and Islamic, Pakistani and Indian songs and rhythms. 

Loïal weaves humor throughout the performance to alleviate its emotional and tragic content. Humor provides the audience with a lens through which to consider and discuss significant issues.

“The show is about the common identity—an identity that is international, because Chateau Rouge is international,” Loïal said. “I hope the audience will see that although Chateau Rouge is located in France, you can find such towns in virtually all countries. Because we are here in a college, people are very intellectually curious and I hope that the show will be meaningful in that sense.”

According to Vete-Congolo, “Chateau Rouge” is a timely performance, since Bowdoin is becoming more multi-ethnic and multicultural than in the past. She called for the Bowdoin community to ponder new questions about identity.

“There is always a reason to hold an activity like this one because it concerns society, and if it concerns society then it concerns people,” Vete-Congolo said.

She believes that, in this new age of technology, society is exposed to more discourse about identity and identity unease. These new conversations can sometimes create a “[belief] that where you stand, and what you are, are not necessarily where you should stand and what you should be. That creates anxiety, which in turn creates action and reaction,” said Vete-Congolo.
For students in the audience, “Chateau Rouge” shed light on the issues of Eurocentric beauty ideals in ways they had not previously considered.

Emiley Charley ’17 said that despite previous exposure to the topic, the performance helped to contextualize the issue and illuminate its prevalence globally.

“My mom is from Ghana and my dad is from Sierra Leone [and] I’m also an Africana Studies major so I’ve learned a lot about skin bleaching,” Charley said. “It’s really interesting to see how this concept transcends borders and continents and how it’s a real issue. It isn’t really thought about often.”

Preston Thomas ’17 noted that the racial diversity of the dancers in Dife Kako, which consists of dancers of African, European and Asian descent, was surprising and added depth to the show.

“They’re all of French nationality but of different ethnic groups. I typically deem French people to be white, not necessarily having darker skin,” Thomas said. 

“That was one of the key parts for me—that they actually used color to their advantage,” Charley agreed. “If the whole company and all the dancers were just one skin color, the same message would not have been portrayed.”