Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia
Eisa Jocson in "Corponomy", reenacting her performance from the music video "How You Like My Cut" by Peaches. Photo: Bernie Ng

Eisa Jocson at da:ns festival 2017: The Body as Archive of Filipino Labour

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By Chloe Chotrani

(927 words, 7-minute read)

To witness the work of Eisa Jocson is an absolute privilege at this point in history. The double-bill pairing up Jocson’s internationally acclaimed Macho Dancer and the new Esplanade commission Corponomy, investigate the economic body as archive of labor and service in the Philippines.

It is said that the number one export in the Philippines is its people. Filipinos are one of the largest immigrant populations spread across the world. Shaped by economic and cultural conditions, Macho Dancer & Corponomy is a critique of the workforce that engages people in the entertainment industry. Through her artistic process Jocson practices embodiment as research of the social mobility and gender politics of the Filipino people.

Macho Dancer

 “Macho Dancing is performed by young men in night clubs for male – as well as female – clients. Macho Dancing, with its specific movement vocabulary and physicality, is a unique phenomenon in the Philippines, an economically-motivated language of seduction that employs masculinity as body capital.” – Eisa Jocson

Eisa Jocson performing “Macho Dancer”. Photo: Giannina Urmeneta Ottiker

The set-up is a runway stage, mimicking a nightclub, and the lights are on the audience. The focus is on us, watching her as she watches us. We hear her boots stomping, her presence and sense her machismo as she stands. Smoke fills the stage, the lights go off and she tenses her way forward, with a powerful softness as she macho dances to Devil’s Dance by Metallica. Through her, we can sense the grit from the streets of Metro Manila.

A sense of nostalgia hits as she shifts the energy into 80s power ballads Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, and Filipino love song Pabigyang Muli by Erik Santos. Love ballads are a strikingly Filipino feature: one hears these songs on the radio, in karaoke bars, and on the streets. It’s almost an obsession: love for love’s sake is escapism.

As sweat drips down her body, already half-naked at this point, the amulet on her chest catches our attention. It is a crucifix. The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country: the only Catholic country in Southeast Asia. The glinting of her rosary, her movements within a thick liquid space, and the tension of her muscles as she works up a sweat, subtly reveal the socio-politics of the Filipino labor force. During a da:ns festival workshop session[1], participants had a taste of the technicality and precision of the macho dance form. The form in itself is reflective of the socio-cultural values that reveal the seduction of masculinity, for men and women, ironically within a matriarchal society.

Corponomy

The second performance of the evening, was Jocson’s debut of Corponomy, a performance lecture that expounds on her artistic practice from 2010 – 2017. In Corponomy, she reveals her process through live performance against a back-drop reel of videos, carefully curated and timed.

Spatially, Jocson shifts between three points on the stage: the yoga mat on downstage left, the table she set up with her laptop, clothing and material on downstage right and lastly standing in front of the projector downstage center, creating a large shadow as the videos continue to play in the back.

Eisa Jocson, “Corponomy”. Photo: Bernie Ng

She started with “Stainless Borders” (2010) which was her transition from her training as a visual artist into pole dancing, where she confronted architectures of control by exploring movement in a vertical dimension within urban landscapes. Playing at the same time was “Death of a Pole Dancer” (2011) a performative negotiation of voyeurism, vulnerability, sexuality and power.

“Philippine Macho Academy” (2014) was an exhibition at the Vargas Museum in Manila, which integrated her visual art background with her performance practice. The exhibition reveals the ethnographic documentation of research through text, drawings, videos, installation and performance of the Master macho dancer Marco Era, who mentored Jocson when she initially took an interest in macho dancing.

She then takes us to Japan, exploring the lives of Filipino female transgender hostesses who engage in a performativity catering to Japanese salary men. “HOST” (2015) is a one-woman entertainment service machine. It recurs the body as a place for archive as she shifts from a traditional Japanese geisha, into commercial dancing to Beyonce and Rihanna, and ending with singing to Nobody by Wonder Girls.

Eisa Jocson, “Corponomy”. Photo: Bernie Ng

The amalgamation and continuously changing language of Jocson’s movement has no limit. From pole dancer, to hostess, to macho dancer and finally to princess:  “Happyland” (2017) is about the illusory enchantment of Disneyland. In this global entertainment industry, skilled Filipino performers take on the roles of white Disney princesses like masks. They are forced to leave the history stored within their bodies and come into a cultural amnesia by embodying the identity of classical Western narratives of white princesses, which the majority of us are familiar with, having grown up with Disney and brain-washed ideas of beauty.

Jocson becomes a hybrid of the exploited language of entertainment. She performs the heavy affective labor of the Filipino people with such lightness and humor, a very ‘pinoy’ quality. Visual artist, pole dancer, macho dancer, Japanese hostess and Disney princess: Jocson exemplifies the multi-dimensional capabilities of the body as a tool for understanding, critiquing and responding to society. Macho dancing, a unique movement phenomenon tucked away in the Manila night clubs since the 70s has now become recognised as an expression of the social and economic conditioning of the Filipino people, through Macho Dancer. In Corponomy, Jocson reveals to us her overarching process which validates the relevance of the artistic process and performance as a means to research and respond to the complexities and struggles within societal structures.

 

[1] da:ns lab 2017 – dancing in a landscape of crisis: dancers and choreographers from Singapore and Southeast Asia were invited to an intensive three-day workshop and seminar to reflect on issues surrounding creative practices amidst the current unstable political environment. Why should we keep moving? How does a body navigate a landscape in crisis? Curated by Singaporean artist Daniel Kok, he invited three guest artists Jeremy Wade (USA/Germany), Karol Tyminski (Poland/Germany) and Eisa Jocson (Philippines) to deliver the workshops.


Macho Dancer and Corponomy by Eisa Jocson was performed at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on 27 & 28 October 2017,
as part of the da:ns festival 2017. Corponomy is a performance lecture that reflects on all Jocson’s works produced from 2009 to 2017, which are concerned with the representations of the dancing body and the production of fantasy in the service industry.

Guest Contributor Chloe C. Chotrani is a dance artist, cultural manager and writer based in Singapore. She was a dance scholar with Romançon Dance in Manila and has worked with B Supreme London, Evidence Dance, Movement Research and Gibney Dance in New York. Her creative research is oriented towards her heritage and ancestry, the dance ethnography of Southeast Asia, eco-feminism and the decolonization of people. Find her on her website.

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