Eisa Jocson Knows the Power of Dance

From pole dancing to Disney princesses, the artist ‘hijacks’ modes of performance to show the power dynamics inherent in the way we move

Written for Frieze: https://www.frieze.com/article/eisa-jocson-knows-power-dance


When I spoke to Eisa Jocson in late August, she was not in her hometown of Manila, but a greener place. From my computer screen, I could see the cantaloupe light of the outdoors; a dog yowled in the distance. As we talked, she occasionally referred back to her surroundings, mentioning how she taught a dance workshop at the beach nearby, or how much more ‘expanded’ – a term she uses often – her life experience was near the ocean and the forests. 

Jocson had moved to a surf town north of metropolitan Manila, the world’s most densely populated city, as a temp­orary respite from the art world circuit, as well as from the anxiety of living through a pandemic in a failed political state. She emphatically described the decision as one of the ‘best in her life’. As an artist whose practice studies how bodies of colour move within and adapt to different socioeconomic contexts, this choice to de-situate herself seemed an act of resistance.  

In order to untangle that thought, it is important to understand Jocson’s investigations into what she calls ‘movement languages’ – fluid physical and material vocabularies shared by specific communities. She describes her work as ‘a process of unlearning or re-habituating the body towards a new set of techniques’. Pole dancing is a movement language, she said, as is macho dancing, a highly coded display of erotic masculinity seen in Filipino gay bars. Ballet is another movement language, as well as the facade of eternal happiness performed in Disneyland parks. All of these forms – which have been learned and harnessed by Jocson in her practice – originated from specific socioeconomic contexts: strip clubs, royal courts and corporate boardrooms. In exploring their displacement and blurring their public and private articulations – viewers rarely see dancers warming up, for instance, or the fact that darker-skinned performers are typically selected for minor roles in Hong Kong Disneyland – Jocson reveals a process of unlearning not just one’s natural state of movement, but histories of colonization, economy and power.

Eisa Jocson
Eisa Jocson, Macho Dancer, 2013, performance documentation, Body Politics Festival, Athens, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and Onassis Stegi, Athens; photograph: © Giannina Urmeneta Ottiker

Jocson made her first movement work in 2010. At that point in time, she was teaching pole dancing as a fitness regime, having recently completed a degree in visual arts at the University of the Philippines. She had also trained for seven years in classical ballet. The confluence of all these experiences metastasized in Stainless Borders: Deconstructing Architectures of Control, a performance in which she pole dances around flagpoles, gates, signposts and traffic signs. ‘I was thinking about the spatial appropriation of gendered pole dancing, from the red-light district, which was a private space, into the semi-private space of the fitness studio. I had this idea to push that further,’ she said. ‘Vertical fixtures control human movement – signs direct cars, flags organize identity around symbols – and by pushing pole dancing into the public sphere, I was challenging those disciplinary vertical fixtures.’ As Jocson arcs up and around a flagpole using only the suspension and flexibility of her own body, there is a physical and social precarity to her act of civil disobedience, measured by various factors: the architecture of the pole, the outdoor weather and responses by onlookers, which included passers-by and security guards. First developed in Manila, the work took on an additional dimension when performed in the predominantly white environments of Belgium’s Sint-Niklaas, where it formed part of the international arts festival Coup de Ville in 2010. As a brown Asian woman – a figure often stereotyped in popular culture as either a sex worker or domestic helper – Jocson deconstructed not just public designs, but also the psychological spaces in which hierarchies of race, class and power reign.   

In her next work, Death of a Pole Dancer (2011), Jocson ritualized the typical warmup practices of a stripper in a sterile exhibition space. Wearing gloves, skimpy attire and patent-leather pole dance heels, she installs a pole in front of a seated audience, cleaning it with a rag and instructing a technician to adjust its position. When she is ready, she begins to ‘test’ the pole for its durability and sturdiness, violently shaking it and slamming her chest repeatedly against the metal bar. She slaps the floor while spinning; she hangs upside down using only the grip of her thighs, her arms and face limp, her expression blank. ‘It shifts into a performance about testing the strength of the body against the pole, testing the body’s perseverance against gravity,’ she explained. ‘The work contains the usual elements of pole dance composed with different kinds of movements that are normally behind the scenes.’ Using her body as a map, Jocson visibly traces the disconnect that occurs between fantasy and the people who perform it, and the viewers’ complicity in this severance.

Eisa Jocson
Eisa Jocson, Stainless Borders: Deconstructing Architectures of Control, 2010, performance documentation, Sint-Niklaas. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Angelo Vermeulen

For Macho Dancer (2013), a slow, low performance, Jocson had to unlearn femininity, which often translates as height and aerial movement. She had to figure out how to balance without a pole and crawl on the floor – a process that took her over a year. The effect is persuasive, to the point of it being jarring in its deconstructions. Jocson told me that curators and festival organizers often ask her to perform Death and Macho Dancer together, as if to demonstrate the performativity of gender. Whereas in Death Jocson wears the uniform of a stripper, for Macho Dancer she dons cowboy boots, a rosary necklace and a wifebeater, a visual recall to the Philippines’ history under Spanish and American rule, and the nation’s struggle for independence. By embodying the conflicting symbolisms of her home country’s past – masculinity and power in the Western cowboy figure, and monoculturalism in the Spanish influence of Christianity on the region – she leaves viewers with circuitous open-ended questions. What does it mean to embody masculinity? What does desire mean in the context of colonial trauma? How do religion, queerness and sensuality intersect? Instead of exorcizing precise answers out of these performances, Jocson makes her references deliberately ambiguous, revealing the complications of a postcolonial territory still grappling with its slippery identity.  

Later, Jocson created the ironically titled Philippine Macho Academy (a play on the Philippine Military Academy), through which she teaches workshops to people of all genders. ‘It’s not about just creating this sexual macho aura,’ she said. ‘It is only through the body, and the initial awkwardness of learning, that you encounter this awareness of your own habits, your own condition, why your body moves a certain way.’ As a woman embodying masculinity, Jocson added, there is a socioeconomic power shift that occurs throughout the performance, and which carries through in real life. Walking home alone, Jocson told me, she would embody this learned masculinity if she sensed an immediate threat in 
her surroundings.   

The fluidity and malleability of identity also inform Jocson’s The Filipino Superwoman Band (2019) and ‘Happyland’ series (2017–ongoing). Both explore different aspects of the Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) phenomenon, an unofficial government scheme through which the country has managed to sustain its economy through the mass export of labour. It is estimated that there are more than 10 million Filipino citizens abroad; personal remittances from OFWs account for almost 10 percent of GDP. In The Filipino Superwoman Band and ‘Happyland’, Jocson highlights these currencies of labour, sacrifice and submission to government instruction, yet the works are neither a criticism nor celebration of such realities. ‘They represent conflicting notions of desirability and affective labour,’ she said. ‘It’s a way of owning, of agency, but also through this language we really unpack or unravel in a complex way all our identity: this is where radical power can emerge.’

Eisa Jocson
Eisa Jocson, Princess, 2017, performance documentation featuring Russ Ligtas, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, Singapore; photograph: Bernie Ng

The Filipino Superwoman Band is an all-woman group that embodies the archetypal female OFW entertainer as seen in hotels, red-light district bars and on cruise ships. Jocson and her band travel and perform around the world, mirroring the migratory paths of similar groups; their signature song is ‘Superwoman’ (1988) by Karyn White, whose lyrics about an unappreciative lover also mirror the emotional and physical labour of domestic workers: ‘Early in the morning I put breakfast at your table / And make sure that your coffee has it’s sugar and cream’;  ‘I’m not your superwoman / Boy, I am only human’. For the first work in her ‘Happyland’ series, Jocson dissects the social structures within Disneyland through their most valuable cultural assets: princesses. Princess (2017) sees her becoming the Snow White of Disney’s eponymous 1937 animation: a figure of purity and whiteness that Jocson ‘hijacks’ with her body. She performs Snow White’s routine song and dance with a male double, also shattering the gendered fantasy of a single ‘real’ princess. After several minutes of sighing, singing, tiptoeing and sweeping – acts that mimic Snow White’s on-screen gestures, as well as referring to the routines of Filipino domestic workers – the Snow Whites begin to apologize, reciting a speech that the character gives to forest animals in the original Disney film. ‘I’m awfully sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you, but you don’t know what I’ve been through,’ they repeat, each time their voices rising in volume until the final recitation is a scream. ‘What do you do when things go wrong?’  

Princess, similar to Death, is a performance about voyeurism: first we are enthralled by the arcuated, docile gestures of the two princesses, then we are made aware of our problematic gaze through their persistent, automaton repetition. A fantasy can only be realized if it has an audience, Jocson reminds us, and often, it is that audience that ensures the survival of the person wearing the outfit, whether sex workers, migrant workers or Disneyland actors. ‘What do you do when things go wrong?’ could be considered a plea for empathy in situations where one’s options are severely limited. Survival and adaptation were the main themes in Jocson’s university thesis, ‘Ballet Philippines: Post-Disney Exodus’, which chronicled a mass artistic migration that occurred in 2006. ‘Most of the senior members of the Ballet Philippines, and other creative companies, left to work in Hong Kong Disneyland,’ she said. ‘There was so much heartache in the community. But at the same time, you cannot blame them, because in the Philippines, there are no opportunities left, and the finances are not sustainable.’ 

Eisa Jocson
Eisa Jocson, Macho Dancer, 2013, performance documentation, Hiroshima, Barcelona, 2020. Courtesy: the artist

In the works Zoo and Manila Zoo (both 2021), shown respectively at Tai Kwun in Hong Kong and Künstlerhaus Mousonturm in Frankfurt, she takes these systems of labour further. In this continuation of her ‘Happyland’ series, Jocson and other performers embody the states of animals in enclosures, in reference to the rage felt by those trapped by ‘control mechanisms that have been imposed on bodies, whether human or animal’. At Tai Kwun, Jocson adapted to Hong Kong’s COVID-19 restrictions by installing a screen in the physical space and asking performers in Manila to livestream their movements. The performances would often last for hours, the screen eerily paralleling animal cages. Over time, the repetitious animal calls and scratchings became more distorted and hostile, especially if the performers felt unheard or unseen by visitors walking by in the exhibition space. ‘It’s meant to be chimeric,’ Jocson explained. ‘The strategy for this was to blur the vocabularies of animal and human vocalizations and entertainment with a machinic entity that goes into overdrive and becomes monstrous.’ Jocson’s political fury stemmed from the Filipino government’s mismanagement of the pandemic as well as its history of corruption, and seeps into other works. Jocson showed me a music video she completed earlier this year for the Seoul Mediacity Biennale, in which the Filipino Superwoman Band engages in K-pop choreographies, specifically the hyperfeminine, swishy performances of Blackpink. This is interspersed with acts of cleaning, wiping, swabbing and cooking – gendered domestic and essential labour that has been widely exploited by authoritarian regimes. As in Zoo, the women begin to revolt towards the second half of the video, glitching their bodily movements and lyrics. ‘Let’s kill this love / for these fascist leaders,’ they sing. With each act of assimilation, Jocson reminds us, there is also room for rebellion.  

This article first appeared in frieze issue 223 with the headline ‘Eisa Jocson’ 

Main image: Eisa Jocson, Macho Dancer, 2013, performance documentation, Body Politics Festival, Athens, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and Onassis Stegi, Athens; photograph: © Elina Giounanli

The body politics of Eisa Jocson

original source of article: https://artreview.com/ara-winter-2019-feature-eisa-jocson/

The body politics of Eisa Jocson

Stephen Wilson 07 November 2019ArtReview Asia

Eisa Jocson Princess Parade
Eisa Jocson Princess Parade

Eisa Jocson’s fearless performances explore the politics of the gendered body, the migration of labour, the cultural impacts of the ‘happiness industry’ and the conditions of the Filipino diaspora. In Princess Studies (2017) two Filipino performers – one female, one male – in the fancy dress costumes of Disney’s Snow White (1937) move through a concrete space, performing synchronised movements and speaking (mostly) in unison. Their words and actions phase into a repetition, resembling some kind of sinister rehearsal before, an hour or so into the performance, the princesses inhale deeply and shout:

“What do you do when things go wrong?”

“I’m awfully sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you, but you don’t know what I’ve been through. And all because I was afraid… I’m so ashamed of the fuss I’ve made…”

The audience is silent. Leaning against a wall at the back of the room, I feel uneasy and defensive. This is less a performance of the typical Disney princess – inevitably rescued by the masculine hero – than about the social pressures to perform happiness. Indeed, Princess Studies is the first part of HAPPYLAND (2017–), a series of performances whose title refers both to the slogan used by Disney for its themeparks (‘the happiest place on earth’) and the name given to a densely populated slum in Manila. As such, it hints at the preoccupations with identity, entertainment as labour and migration underpinning Jocson’s highly politicised practice.

Eisa Jocson, Host, 2015, performance ARA Winter 2019 feature
Host, 2015, performance. Photo: Andreas Endermann

HAPPYLAND has toured institutions and festivals across Asia and Europe, including, in the summer of 2019, the Koppel Project Central in London, where it was presented in association with a group exhibition at SOAS featuring 11 artists working in the Philippines. Curators Renan Laru-an, Merv Espina and Rafael Schacter proposed to ‘chart the historical and contemporary forces linking this archipelagic chain with other key spheres of global power… by placing the theme of belatedness as a principal concern’.

This idea of ‘belatedness’ as shedding light upon the power relations of the postcolonial Philippines fits neatly with Jocson’s ‘princess studies’ and its focus on the body, new-adult fiction, fantasy production and labour migration. In a recent discussion with ArtReview Asia, Jocson explained how Disney serves as a useful case study for these issues: Filipino workers train for years to gain qualifications as dancers so that they can be employed at themeparks including Hong Kong Disneyland. Happiness, at least in its commodified form, is predicated on migrant labour and unequal employment conditions.

Trained in Manila in choreography and with a background in ballet, Jocson used her own experience of entering (and winning) pole-dancing competitions to create her 2011 performance Death of the Pole Dancer, in which a discipline traditionally understood as being for the benefit of gendered voyeurs was transformed into an act that questioned the politics of female expression and spectatorship. She subsequently committed herself to learning ‘macho dancing’ – a highly coded form of male erotic dancing – which she turned into the performance Macho Dancer (2013), another to challenge both fixed gender positions and the power dynamics of watching and performing.

Eisa Jocson Stainless Borders
Stainless Borders: Deconstructing Architectures of Control, 2010, performance.Photo: Angelo Vermeulen. Courtesy the artist

The emotional and physical labour of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) employed in industries including erotic dancing resonate through Princess Studies. By collaborating with male actors (including the Filipino performance artist Russ Ligtas), Jocson subverts the dominant fairytale narrative, playing on issues of both race and gender: in 2017 she worked closely with four professional dancers on the second part of HAPPYLAND, entitled Your Highness, which applied avant-garde choreography to a study of Disney’s archetypal princess figures, including Ariel (from The Little Mermaid, 1989), Belle (Beauty and the Beast, 1991) and Giselle (Enchanted, 2007). By linking the Western ideal of the princess to the work of Filipino migrants acting it out for money at themeparks, Jocson destabilises the fantasy of whiteness that they are being asked to perform. Princess Studies dramatises these issues of Filipino identity in the ‘doubling’ of its performers.

This is less about resisting the lure of foreign employment than about highlighting labour conditions for those working in the entertainment, services and arts sectors (the separation between which Jocson’s work also interrogates). According to a 2011 report by the Asian Migrant Centre and the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), the Philippines is the second largest exporter of labour, with ‘ten percent of the population leaving the country to work in various parts of the globe’. With this has come a rise in online counselling for members of the diaspora experiencing homesickness, shame, loneliness or depression, and so HAPPYLAND is also a study of what happens when the fantasy of leaving home is not matched by the reality. This complex representation of the diaspora experience retells the story of a princess/artist/worker for Filipinos abroad, and reconsiders the oppressed ‘other’ of Western colonial histories in the context of a new world of globalised labour.

Eisa Jocson The Filipino Superwoman Band
Poster for The Filipino Superwoman Band premiere at Sharjah Biennial 14, 2019. Courtesy the artist

Princess Studies uses a form of mimetic protest through which to challenge cultural norms. The synchronicity and mimicry acted out by Jocson and her male collaborator in this work reminds us that the bodies of entertainers are at once replaceable (in the sense that they are parts in a capitalist production) and unique (because they express an individual subjectivity). While searching through the harsh realities of today’s entertainment industry, Jocson continually acknowledges everyday racism and the specifically Southeast Asian context of postcolonial studies of inequality within the migratory ethnoscape. Her practice continues to expose Western conceits of the entertainment industry in its relations to migrant labour. By using the body as an instrument of artistic expression and political protest, Jocson challenges the reduction of the migrant labourer’s body to the status of an object.

Jocson has recently moved into more experimental territory with the creation of the all-female musical ensemble The Filipino Superwoman Band (2019). Formed in Manila, and comprising Franchesca Casauay, Bunny Cadag, Cath Go and Teresa Barrozo, the band was created in response to the phenomenon of the ‘Overseas Filipino Musician’ (OFM) who performs cover versions of Western songs on cruise boats and in clubs, bars and hotels. Using sound to consider the vulnerability of this migrant labour and hybridised cultural identity, the band problematises the Philippine government’s description of OFWs as Ang mga Bagong Bayani (‘our modern-day heroes’) in much the same way that Princess Studies challenged the princess fantasy. The effect is to highlight the tension inherent in the official celebration of these workers’ contributions to the national economy and the high personal and social cost of their displacement. 

In the Princess Studies and The Filipino Superwoman Band, the body – both individual and collective – plays out this tension. But instead of reducing the complex power relations at play in a globalised world of commodified entertainment, cultural exchange and transnational movements, these actions reproduce and remind us of the essentially fluid nature of desire, resistance and embodiment.

The Hugo Boss Art Asia Award 2019, featuring Hao Jingban, Hsu Che-Yu, Eisa Jocson and Thao-Nguyên Phan, is on show at the Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, through 5 January

Stephen Wilson curated Transpersonal, instructions (2018) at the Vargas Museum, Manila 

From the Winter 2019 issue of ArtReview Asia

Exploding the Frame


Eisa Jocson Explodes the Frame

In Conversation with
Xue Tan
Hong Kong, 29 September 2020

Kenny Ho Sheung Hei and Eisa Jocson performing Zoo as part of My Body Holds Its Shape, on site in Hong Kong and live stream from Manila at Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong (25 May–20 September 2020). Courtesy the artist.

What is Queer About Queer Performance Now?

Between identity and identitylessness

orignal article: https://e-tcetera.be/what-is-queer-about-queer-performance-now/

In this article, Elke Huybrechts regards what happened on theater stages in 2017 through a queer theoretical lens, motivated by her fondness for queering as a strategy, but also by the realization that there’s an antagonism as well as a certain elusiveness at the heart of the artistic practices she associates with it.

The past year has been dominated by #MeToo headlines. On 21 January 2017, during the Women’s March, more than four million people took to the streets all over the world to demand equal rights. Some saw this protest as the embodiment of intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to make clear that an individual’s societal position is determined by the interaction of different norms regarding gender, sexuality, race, class, age, and so on.1 Thus Crenshaw created an analytical tool that lays bare the complex mechanisms of discrimination. And so an intersection of seemingly antagonistic movements banded together under the banner of the Women’s March: climate activists, anti-racist organizations, women’s rights campaigners, and lgbtqia groups.

This past theater season, such antagonistic impulses were part and parcel of the Flemish and Brussels performance world as well. The number of theater works, dance shows and performances that put gender, sexuality and race center stage was nothing if not striking. In addition, a handful of focus programs and festivals were launched with a similar angle. The Beursschouwburg (the Brussels Bourse) organized The Future is Feminist, consisting of performances, fiction and documentary films, book clubs and debate nights – an intersectional and interdisciplinary program inspired by the Women’s March. Arts Center Vooruit, in turn, kicked off its season with Make me up before we blow blow, a film and performance program exploring drag in all its manifestations. And, to give just one more example, the third edition of the WoWmen! Festival took place at Kaaitheater in March.

So, 2018 may well mark a change in attitude in the wider society, and the Flemish and Brussels arts centers clearly aligned with this trend. Racism, sexism and colonialism also became hotly debated topics in art criticism. It remains to be seen if the artistic practices and frameworks in question can avoid getting pigeon-holed into focus programs or special issues in the seasons to come, but hopefully these developments will pave the way for long-term changes in the way Flemish and Brussels arts centers function and draw up their programs, as well as in the practice of cultural criticism.

The word ‘queer’ originally meant ‘odd’ or ‘strange’, and though it continues to carry that connotation, it has been appropriated as a term of pride by today’s lgbtqia community. So, what has changed since the conception of queer theory some thirty years ago? The term is no longer exclusively reserved for sexual orientations that stray from the hetero-norm, but rather applies to anything outside of any norm. In a 2005 book called What’s Queer About Queer Studies Now?2 (2005), several theorists try to come up with an answer to the title question. First and foremost, the authors interpret the term ‘queer’ as a ‘political metaphor without a fixed referent’. The (a)typical thing about this chameleon word is that, in the struggle for social justice, it gets appropriated by a multitude of antagonistic movements that oppose exclusionary practices based on racialized, sexed, gendered and class-based definitions of who belongs and who doesn’t. Queerness signifies resistance to ingrained notions of identity; it is a strategy of defamiliarization and disidentification. That is why ‘What is queer about queer performance now?’ will be the guiding question in this article. Who’s playing, what’s at play and what’s at stake?


Performativity is a key concept that enables us to establish a connection between the social struggle for the recognition of certain identities on the one hand, and performance art on the other. In 1990, Judith Butler’s book Gender Trouble3 suggested that gender is performative, and this landmark publication helped to spawn queer theory. According to Butler, there is no such thing as a natural or original gender identity; rather, gender is a construct of western cultural meanings that get repeated and embodied in a highly stylized manner. And it is from this continuous repetition that certain gender notions derive their legitimacy and normative character.

We cannot but repeat and quote these norms, but performativity also includes the possibility of resistance and play. That’s why Butler attaches so much importance to parody and theatrical strategies like drag performances to expose gender as a cultural construct. Such subversive performances simultaneously quote and deconstruct the gender norm: there is friction between the performer’s anatomical sex, his/her/their gender identity and the gender performance, leading to a divide between the three. Thus normative gender roles are successfully denaturalized.

The first few decades following the conception of queer studies, gender performativity proved a useful concept for queer theorists, theater researches as well as theater makers: the stage was the space par excellence to queer gender norms in a performative way. When queer studies was confronted with neocolonialism, the post-Fordist economy, the war on terror and queer liberalism and nationalism (or heteronormativity) after the turn of the century, the need arose for a more complex and continuous queering. The commercial and especially the political appropriation of identities – as exemplified by the N-VA’s use of LGBT people to justify its hostility towards the Muslim population – demonstrate that queering is a never-ending battle and movement. It is crucial ‘to stay with the trouble’, as the American sociologist Donna Haraway  would say, and in order to do this, we have to tackle performativity from an intersectional angle. This intersectional agenda and a resistance to appropriation are also apparent in the performances that will be discussed in what follows.


Eisa Jocson’s Happyland: Princess (2017) was included in the The Future is Feminist program at the Beursschouwburg. The Filipino choreographer puts two Disney characters on stage: two performers dressed as Snow White slowly appropriate the range of movements and the vocabulary of this fairytale princess. In previous works, Jocson focused on the movements of a pole dancer and a macho dancer – the latter, who performs bold and seductive dance moves in night clubs, being a typical Filipino phenomenon. The various characters in Jocson’s shows evoke a complex intersection of gender notions, but also of class differences and racial clichés.

The same can be said about Princess. After all, ‘Happyland’ refers both to the slogans of Disney theme parks and to the slums of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. In this context, Disney serves as a symbol of the invasive American cultural imperialism that exports its ideals of femininity and beauty all over the world through characters like Snow White, yet it also represents the way in which western powers perpetuate global economic injustice.

Literary genres like the Disney fairytale are familiar to a large cultural community (due to this cultural imperialism, among other reasons). Many readers or viewers feel emotionally connected to a genre, because it is a framework that they recognize and feel a part of. Yet the character of Snow White promotes problematic norms about femininity and race. Princess queers the complex structural inequality of the Snow White character in the Happyland theme park: two performers of color, a woman (Jocson herself) and a man (Russ Ligtas), both play the part of the sweet, extremely polite and obliging, soft-spoken, sometimes giggling, sometimes gently weeping, princess. The appropriation exposes the absurdity, the compulsiveness and the artificiality of this fictional character, not in the least because the anatomical sex and/or the skin color of the performers immediately clashes with the gender and racial profile that the character of Snow White demands of them.

From the very start, this queerness is mirrored in the theatrical apparatus: namely, in problems with the lights, the music or the audio. These technical issues seem to symbolize the antagonistic forces that try to punch holes in this cultural ideal. Even the performers themselves start to malfunction after a while: their movements spin out of control and they wrench off their princess dresses while crawling on the floor. All of a sudden, the voices of the Snow Whites take on a different timbre and the performers start to speak Spanish. Thus the performance queers the structural violence, sexism and racism encouraged by the character of Snow White and the genre of the Disney fairytale in general. The affect Princess is after is not familiarity but disruption – namely, that of the systems constructing harmful identities.

Princess queers the structural violence, sexism and racism encouraged by the character of Snow White and the genre of the Disney fairytale in general.”

Yet the deconstruction does not immediately reveal an ‘authentic’ or ‘original’ identity: the Spanish language signals a ‘second’ historical, colonial layer, an imperial remnant of the Spanish rule in the Philippines which lasted more than three hundred years. In addition, the performers become Snow White-like again in the way they talk and behave at the end of the performance, as if to show that deconstruction is not the endpoint, and that somehow this Disney character has nevertheless become a part of a shared culture. Princess appeals to the complexity and multilayeredness of identities, but also shows how the construction of the ‘identity’ of a character such as Snow White is embedded in a capitalist system in which bodies become consumer goods and racial profiling creates economic injustice, both globally and locally. Jocson is one of the few who succeed in uniting such Marxist criticisms with queering the concept of identity in her performances, proving that the two are not necessarily at odds.


Ligia Lewis’ Minor matter (2016), which was staged at Kaaitheater, is the second part of a trilogy on blackness. It is a piece for three black performers, which the American choreographer created as a response to the Black Lives Matter protest movement. Its title draws a connection between materiality and minorities, in this case the materiality of black bodies and the space of the black box. The performance contains several phrases from choreographies by Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe and Maurice Béjart. Yet Lewis weaves new movement material into these pieces from the white dance canon (and prime examples of abstract or minimalist choreographies at that), such as an energetic twostep, a wrestling match and the death drop. As a result, Minor matter becomes a highly diverse performance that leaves room for different movement styles as well as music genres ranging from baroque to hip-hop.

Minor matter alternates between these phrases, and scenes in which the performers discuss their (failed) ambitions. At times, they also move towards the edges of the stage: they form human pyramids on the floor and against the wall, they speak into microphones hanging from the walls, and they continually create new body formations that disintegrate again. Thus, Minor matter explores bodily and spatial boundaries and materiality. The opening scene sets the tone: the stage is bathed in red light and is empty, except for a huge cloud of mist. Lewis’ voice resounds from the speakers: she recites the poem ‘Dreamtalk’ by the Nigerian poet Remi Raji, in which a lyrical ‘I’ addresses a ‘you’ – a rhetorical device called apostrophe. The poem evokes the impossible love between the ‘I’ and the ‘you’ character. The former communicates with the latter from beyond death, from a realm of shadows, and talks about her/his wish for a reunion that can never take place. ‘I will like to turn you inside out and step into your skin’ is the poem’s opening line, which, in the context of the performance, could refer to the audience’s impossibility to identify with the disembodied voice that speaks from ‘beyond death’.

Furthermore, the voice in Raji’s poem mentions ‘the crossroads’ where speaker and listener will meet. In intersectional theory, the crossroads (intersection) is a metaphor for the different ‘identity paths’ travelling through an individual. Yet an encounter at a crossroads, especially one between the white gaze and the black body, can be fatal.4 Black bodies are marked by that white gaze and regarded as inferior (‘minor matter’).

Ligia Lewis, ‘minor matter’ © Martha Glenn

It comes as no surprise, then, that Fred Moten and Achille Mbembe, two important postcolonial thinkers, believe nothingness and death can play a key role. Both concepts open up a possible space of resistance against a society that marginalizes black subjects, as is also demonstrated by the speeches the performers deliver to the audience. By hybridizing the white dance canon on the one hand, and by taking social death and the materiality of the black box and black bodies as a starting point for a dark ontology on the other, they conceptualize a space that resists violent appropriation. Minor matter testifies to the impossibility of, and the unwillingness to abstract the black body. Throughout the performance, the black box functions as a space in which something else becomes imaginable: a meeting place in which the traditional boundaries between bodies, cruelty/optimism, abstract/concrete and death/life crumble. So, there’s a dark side to this queerness. It is an attempt to create a new agency and energy from a social position that has been declared dead and that lingers in dark corners, and to build a poetic universe from dark matter.

Minor matter testifies to the impossibility of, and the unwillingness to abstract the black body.”


Both NEXT Festival (in November) and the Beursschouwburg (in March) programmed Blab by the Finish choreographer and visual artist Sonja Jokiniemi, who puts three performers on stage, surrounded by an amalgamation of things: iron bars, wool, rope and other fabrics. Some of these objects are phallus-shaped, others look like synthetic uteruses, but most of them are hard to categorize – just like the performance itself, Blab being both installation and performance. Not much happens on stage, except for a few interactions between the objects and the performers, who are sometimes neutral, sometimes messy and sexual. Every now and then, external forces seem to be at work: near the end, the performers’ movements become jerky, and some of their actions have an aggressive tinge.

Sonia Jokiniemi, ‘Blab’ © Simo Karisalo

Not coincidentally, Blab refers to a baby’s prelinguistic phase, when it has only nonsense words at its disposal to communicate with its surroundings. The child’s interaction with those surroundings, at that point, is mainly physical: a baby explores its world by touching everything it encounters with every possible body part. Jane Bennett, who argues for a revaluation of the agency of matter in Vibrant Matter, draws a link between a child’s world and a political ecology of things. After all, for children it is self-evident that non-human entities also ‘live’.5 New Materialism, the philosophical movement to which Bennett and many others belong, stemmed from the realization that we need a more sustainable approach to matter (as opposed to production, consumption, exploitation, etc.) if we want to avoid destroying all life on this planet. Blab creates a political ecology of things, dividing the vital materiality of both human and non-human entities into a non-hierarchal network of sustainable interconnections and interactions. In Blab, every action is an interaction: touching objects equals being touched by the materiality of those objects. When, for instance, the performers put iron bars in their mouths, they penetrate these objects as well as being penetrated by them.

Blab calls for another definition of human identity, while simultaneously trying to annul it.”

Watching Blab, then, becomes an affective affair in which the viewer is receptive to the stimuli and vibrations emanating from vital materiality. Like Minor matterBlab calls for a new approach to bodily materiality as well as eroticism. In Blab’s ecology of things, matter and longing are the phenomena that connect a human being to its surroundings. Similarly, Blab requests a queering, another definition of human identity, while simultaneously trying to annul it. The vibrations that run through Blab are both erotic and impersonal, an affection between people-things, or ‘a field of forces that do not tend to congeal into subjectivity.’6


At the beginning of the nineties, queering was mainly a form of irony and camp. Back then, drag performances and queer musicals were the performances par excellence to theatrically evoke gender norms and heteronormativity, and to place these concepts between quotation marks. In a way, Eisa Jocson’s Princess continues this tradition of ironically mimicking the norm, but she pushes things further, embedding her piece in a historical and glocal reality. Using the genre of the Disney fairytale and especially the Disney princess Snow White, she interweaves class inequality with gender norms and racial clichés, which operate on so many levels. Queerness becomes an antagonistic force of systematic and systemic disruption here, affecting all these different aspects. In addition, Jocson queers the concept of identity by showing that it’s always a historical construct and never once seems to stop being a construct.

“Queering has become an indispensable strategy in a complex world in which norms and powers form more intricate structures than ever before.”

Queering has become an indispensable strategy in a complex world in which norms and powers form more intricate structures than ever before. The term offers a way to talk about an intersection of various critical positions, including a feminist, Marxist, ecological and/or postcolonial perspective. In PrincessMinor matter as well as Blab, queering comes down to problematizing deeply ingrained, exclusionary identity norms. But, contrary to Princess, only little irony and theatrically are left in Minor matter and Blab. Instead, the latter pieces look for an ungraspable form, between identity and identitylessness, between human, thing and space, between life and death. After all, though Minor matter and Blab’s political angles differ, both performances call for a new approach to materiality, using this approach to create an autonomous space governed by its own laws and norms, which differ widely from the ones that they oppose.

Translated by Lies Xhonneux.1Crenshaw, Kimberlé Williams, ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color’, in Bailey, Alison, Cuomo, Chris (ed.) The Feminist Philosophy Reader, McGraw-Hill, 2008, pp. 279-309.2Eng, David, Halberstam, Jack and Muñoz, Esteban, ‘Introduction’, in What’s Queer About Queer Studies Now?, Duke University Press, 2005, pp. 1-17.3Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble, Routledge, 1990.4Nicolay, Daan, ‘Witte blik, zwarte dood’, in Etcetera, 151, 2017, pp. 18-22.5Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2009.6ibidem.


original source: https://tqw.at/en/i-am-white-snow-white/

Stephanie Misa on Princess by Eisa Jocson

November 2018 TQW Magazin

It is, or seems to be, an exercise in impossibilities. Here we have two Snow Whites, replicas of each other twittering in high-pitched voices. Anybody who has ever been to one of the five Disneylands in the world, or seen Finnish artist Pilvi Takala’s “Real Snow White” video piece (where, as an unauthorized Snow White impersonator, she is immediately surrounded by security in Disneyland Paris and asked to leave by management), knows how seriously Disney takes its authenticity. “Where dreams come true” can only happen if done in the trademark, copyrighted and approved Disney way, which means one designated Snow White within carefully bounded perimeters, never to cross paths with another Snow White lest we confuse the fans.

One carefully crafted Snow White, imitated to perfection, the legitimate princess within the premises of her kingdom.

Enter the bodies of Eisa Jocson and Russ Ligtas, princesses in every way, bows in place, daintily moving across the stage as they sigh synchronized greetings of “Hello, what’s your name?” and giggle in chorused perfection. The repetition of movement, the crafted smile, the carefully pointed toe and graceful arc of the arm – they are all part of the princess’ repertoire through and through – but in Jocson and Ligtas’ hands turn thoroughly and unnervingly sinister.

In its slow build-up to quite a tumultuous crescendo, Jocson and Ligtas manage to upend the body of Snow White (multiple times) by staying meticulously true to her “character”. What becomes overtly clear in the repetition and construction of the movement is the effort involved in being Snow White – to smile past the exhaustion, to be completely engaged and entertainment-giving, all the while choking on high-pitched compliments and subservience. It is uncomfortable to watch, and even more uncomfortable when the characters start talking to you. And the gaze shifts.

The point of un-synchronizing is a quiet one, where one Snow White suddenly leaves the other’s side to enter the auditorium, and this is where the stunted conversation begins. We are not a very generous audience. After a few tries, an audience member finally answers Ligtas’ question in reply to which he exclaims: “You can talk!” This is where the Disneyland Princess, whose role is constant entertainment, spins away from the 1937 American animated film. Engagement, smiles, making “magic” happen in the Magic Kingdom are mantras of the theme park, all Snow White had to do in the film was keep house for the seven dwarfs and send them off to work. She never had to sign autographs or pose for selfies. The incorporation of the side chatter between two entertainers in Tagalog[1] while continually speaking to the audience was one of the more noticeable breaks in Princess, one where the construction evidently faltered and that provided some relief.

The impossibility of the Princess trope, in her perpetual helplessness and need of rescue, in her goodness and obsession with housekeeping, in her “lips red as the rose, hair black as ebony, skin white as snow.” Skin as white as snow.

Jocson and Ligtas at one point issue the audience with an apology (“I’m awfully sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. But you don’t know what I’ve been through! I’m so ashamed of the fuss I’ve made. What do you do when things go wrong?”), which in time turns into an accusation.

There is no real apology here, the body of the princess is an empty vessel inhabited by those who need the work. The construction of this fairy tale is based on the sweat and never-wavering smile of the body working, the body of color working – of a body of color always working.

This is familiar territory if you have been following Jocson’s work. A master in embodying the affects of an entertainer’s daily grind, the sexualized, the fetishized, the underbelly of a migratory trajectory not often talked about in the open but lurking in the shadows. The body in this case, that of the Princess, is the most PG[2] Jocson has taken on so far – where the sexualized and engendered role is wrapped in candy-sweetness and tailor-made for under-13 adulation.

The body of color, in this sense, is found in Snow White’s domestic marginalization – here is a “princess” stripped of prestige, made to scrub floors and dust chimneys, cook and smile. This domestic servitude echoes the kind of migratory traffic that comes from the Philippines: that of the house help, the service staff, the nanny, the nurse and the hospice caregiver. Brown bodies tasked to provide for the comfort of others. These themes are tangible in the lines of care and platitude mouthed by Jocson and Ligtas throughout Princess: “Why are you sad? Have you lost your parents?”

Though the least “provocative” of Jocson’s pieces, Princess is actually the most confrontational. It gives you “white face”: an abstract, almost absurd counterpoint to the more rampant yellow-face or black-face phenomena. Never really read as “white face” because white-facing is too familiar and almost invisible in its ubiquity. It is present in every colonial complex inherited by former colonies and manifested in the amount of whitening creams and hair-straightening products on the shelves of supermarkets. We have ingested the idea that white is beautiful, desirable, aspirational – the sacred body with skin white as snow.

Not in this constellation. Snow White is never white (the second impossibility). She only is in Disneyland.

[1] Austronesian language spoken as a first language by a quarter of the population of the Philippines.
[2] PG (Parental Guidance) – used to certify that a motion picture is of such a nature that all ages may be allowed admission but parental guidance is advised.

Born in Cebu City, Philippines, Stephanie Misa is an artist, curator and researcher. She lives and works in Vienna where she graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, and is currently a doctoral researcher at the University of Arts in Helsinki. Her work consistently displays an interest in complex and diverse personal and socio-political histories, relating to these through her video work, sculptures, installations, prints, writing and curatorial practice. stephaniemisa.com

Affective Labor and the Philippine Body by Patrick D. Flores

For this panel on “bodies politic,” occasioned by the 8th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art [1], I would like to look at the theme as referring to the political nature of the body. I am drawn to the phrase “political nature” because it tends to surmount certain divides between a sensing body and a sensible practice. In this regard, I turn to the Philippine term naturaleza, which is obviously a Hispanic derivation. It roughly means the condition of a person’s body, or better to say, an embodiment of its life force, its level of vitality; in the old Spanish lexicon, it is essence and attribute, in other words, “nature” in the sense that it is a “quality” and therefore not opposed to “culture.” In fact, the nature and culture duality is transcended by the concept; it makes of the body a vessel of distinction and hence of discrimination; and of nature as human, a biological and political form that enlivens and at the same time enfeebles. Naturaleza is perceived to inhere in the person so that whatever is perceived as coming from the outside, or the foreign, is mediated by it. This naturaleza may be discerned as part of a person’s destiny, an inheritance, conditioned by lineage and the state of the body that is always vulnerable as it is self-renewing, finite as it is persistent. It may also, however, be regarded as a medium in the active process of the body’s response to the various ways by which it is acted upon by an ill wind or a virus or a curse.

Naturaleza may be akin to the word favored by Spinoza, by way of Étienne Balibar, which is ingenium. It is a complexion or a temperament, “a memory whose form has been determined by the individual’s experience of life and by his various encounters, and which, as a result of the unique way in which it has been constituted, is inscribed both in the mind (or soul) and in the disposition of the body.” For this presentation, I propose the framework of naturaleza to talk about contemporary art practice in the Philippines that is sustained by an inquiry into affective or intimate labor.

Much has been said of the exceptional techniques of the Philippine body to perform affective labor across the globe beginning in the nineteenth century. This labor has assumed diverse forms, from entertainment to care giving, and has significantly shaped the economy of the country in recent time. This presentation will sketch out lines of conversation between the practice of Eisa Jocson and the theoretical efforts of Rhacel Parreñas in her study in Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo on what she calls “indentured mobility” to describe the condition of Philippine migrant workers in Japan. Tangential to this discussion are the initiations of Russ Ligtas as well as the projects of Chinese artists Peng Yu and Sun Yuan and Tintin Wulia on Philippine domestic workers in Hong Kong.

In discussing affective labor, I turn to Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt who define the term as “labor in the bodily mode,” investing in the intimacy of human contact and interaction in their book Empire. According to them, “what affective labor produces are social networks, forms of community, biopower.” They continue that in affective labor, “the instrumental action of economic production has been united with the communicative action of human relations.”

Eisa Jocson fleshes out the Philippine body as a body of entertainment that mediates the pedagogy of its source, mimics its habits, and complicates the nature of the body. Jocson is an artist in the field of performance. Her research on the practice of macho dancing, or dancing by male performers in a gay bar in the Philippines, had culminated in a performance piece titled “Macho Dancer.” She elaborated on this project in the exhibition “Philippine Macho Academy” at the Vargas Museum: a fictive structure or institution that serves as a classroom where the principles of macho dancing in the Philippines are analyzed and conveyed.

This exhibition is a documentation of Jocson’s research and articulation of macho dance movement vocabulary. It comprises artifacts, texts, drawings, video, installation, and performance. It is a course on the physical principles of macho dancing based on a syllabus designed through a woman artist’s macho dance practice. Central in this project is the affective labor of man performed in the woman’s body. The latter undergoes both physical change and social habit, ultimately complicating the notions of the feminine and the macho.

All this is materialized in the body and its movement. The artist makes ample reference to it in the form of drawing and performance, as well as the ethnographic details of her research and collaboration with practitioners. She also notates it in the modernist method of Laban, rendering turns of the body graphic, and so reflecting on erotic desire and the devices of modernity. This is her articulation of a striptease: a laying bare of the gendered body that finally becomes queer.


It is interesting to note that Jocson is keen to probe the implications of the vertical and the horizontal as indices of control and release. In an earlier work on pole dance, she argues: “It is a series of public interventions that moves the practice of pole dancing to the public landscape using urban fixtures as sites for play. These architectures of control strategically placed as constraints and disciplinary objects are transformed into playground fixtures for movement exploration. The pole dance vocabulary is used as a starting point to initiate other possibilities of moving in a given site with urban fixtures. I tag and document each public intervention, in the process mapping the fixtures in the urban landscape. The public intervention intends to provide an alternative practice and a different perspective towards how our bodies move within the urban landscape.”

I zero in on Eisa Jocson’s practice because it raises important issues in the political nature of the body in terms of expenditure, exhaustion, pedagogy, discipline, and dissemination. But on the other hand, it also implicates the conditions of affective labor in a migrant context. Here the work of Rhacel Parreñas on Filipina migrant hostesses in Tokyo becomes cogent. She argues that to more fully understand the tension between “coercion and choice” embodying “labor migration experiences…we need to dismantle the binary framework that separates these two distinct migratory flows and construct a middle ground that recognizes the agency of migrants without dismissing the severe structural constraints that could hamper their freedom and autonomy.” Parreñas provocatively marks out a “middle zone between human trafficking and labor migration” and calls it “indentured mobility,” a process that creates degrees of unfreedom and financial and sexual liberation.


photo credits: Andreas Endermann c/o tanzhausnrw

I bring up this notion particularly because it has animated the work of Eisa Jocson who has done work on the Philippine entertainer in Japan, focusing on the various forms, from the traditional style to pop, and will work on Philippine entertainers in Hong Kong Disneyland.

Another trajectory that this discussion on affective labor opens up is a possible queerness, a quick-change procedure that reveals layers of repressed personae that are then performed as a protracted confession. I reference here the work of Russ Ligtas on a multi-character persona called Mdm. B. Niyaan is Russ Ligtas, or Madam Abandoned is Russ Ligtas. The piece takes off from the original one-hour performance Mdm. B. Niyaan is Russ Ligtas where the artist undergoes an exercise to manifest the character Mdm. B. Niyaan and in doing so manage the suffering caused by a tragically frustrated love affair. “Being B. Niyaan” extends the second step of the exercise. Around the perimeter of the Cultural Center of the Philippines fountain, Mdm. B. Niyaan, according to Ligtas, continues the cycle of her grief: from the heights of her most ecstatic memories to the consuming depths of her anger and pain. The performance covers eight hours, one cycle of the ramp covers an hour of Being B. Niyaan. She relives her origin and being, ending only after she’s clocked in a day’s work. It is interesting to mention that Mike Parr also performed in the premises in 1995 as a bride.

Finally, this conjuncture of migration and affective labor, this exceptional sentimentality in foreign spaces that is rendered ultimately intimate, has prompted artists outside the Philippines to speak to the condition of the Philippine bodies that are embedded in the houses of their masters like some terrorist bomb or seen as forming a sprawl, a horizontal gathering across an urban space marked by cardboards that become houses. I refer to the work “Hong Kong Intervention” in 2009 by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu in which they asked Philippine domestic workers to plant bogus bombs in the houses of their employers, photograph them, and ask their fellow workers to take a photograph of them standing with their backs turned on the lenses. I also bring in here the 2016 work of Tintin Wulia called “Five Tons of Homes and Other Understories” on the used cardboard boxes appropriated by Philippine domestic workers in Hong Kong as transient floors or mats in urban pavements during their rest days. These works are potentially provocative, inscribing the internal danger of strangers who dwell in domestic spaces and the occupation of public space by both body and cardboard.

These brief notes on the political nature of the body in the Philippines hopefully stir up interest in affective labor in the migratory ethnoscape. I think it is important to talk about the habits of the body and the changes it has to carry out – out of a robust relational will or under adverse duress – in situations of self-disclosure and collective desire. There is a need to speak to the consequences of pedagogy and repetition as well as the promise of sympathy, intimacy, and the sadness as well as the thrill of indentured mobility and the mediation of the compromised but prevailing naturaleza of the Philippine body.

BIO | Patrick D. Flores

Patrick D. Flores is Professor of Art Studies in the Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines, which he chaired from 1997 to 2003, and Curator of the Vargas Museum in Manila. He is Adjunct Curator of the National Gallery Singapore. He was one of the curators of Under Construction: New Dimensions in Asian Art in 2000 and the Gwangju Biennale (Position Papers) in 2008. He was a Visiting Fellow at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1999 and an Asian Public Intellectuals Fellow in 2004. Among his publications are Painting History: Revisions in Philippine Colonial Art (1999); Remarkable Collection: Art, History, and the National Museum (2006); and PastPeripheral: Curation in Southeast Asia (2008). He was a grantee of the Asian Cultural Council (2010) and a member of the Advisory Board of the exhibition The Global Contemporary: Art Worlds After 1989 (2011) organized by the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe and member of the Guggenheim Museum’s Asian Art Council (2011 and 2014). He co-edited the Southeast Asian issue with Joan Kee for Third Text (2011). He convened in 2013 on behalf of the Clark Institute and the Department of Art Studies of the University of the Philippines the conference “Histories of Art History in Southeast Asia” in Manila. He was a Guest Scholar of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles in 2014. He curated the Philippine Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015.


[1] The 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art Conference 23 November 2015, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia. First publication of the text. (ed.).

Review “Host”: Die Dämonen einer Erotiktänzerin

“Host”: The Demon an erotic dancer

25. Jänner 2016, 07:02

Ein gespenstisches Glanzstück der philippinischen Choreografin Eisa Jocson im Tanzquartier Wien Wien – Es ist ein glitzerndes Bild, das die philippinische Choreografin und Tänzerin Eisa Jocson an den Beginn ihrer neuen Soloarbeit Host setzt: eine Geisha-Figur in rubinschimmerndem Paillettenkimono. Rosa Licht, rotes Papierschirmchen, dazu ein süßlicher Song: “Let me call you sweetheart …” Sehr nett, aber in dieser Dekoration steckt etwas Böses. Host wurde am Wochenende im Rahmen des Projekts kültür gemma! für migrantische Stadtkultur vom Tanzquartier Wien gezeigt. Ein guter Griff, denn Jocson gehört wohl zu den vielversprechendsten jungen Choreografinnen von heute. Nachdem sie einen Pole-Dance-Wettbewerb gewonnen hatte, zeigte sie 2011 ihr erstes Solo mit dem bezeichnenden Titel Death of the Pole Dancer. Auf diese eher beunruhigende Körperinstallation folgte Macho Dancer: Jocson trat gendershiftend als ekstatischer Erotikbar-Tänzer in Stiefeln und mit ausgestopfter Hose auf. Ein Volltreffer, in dem sich Themen wie Transkulturalität, Körperausbeutung und die Erosion von Geschlechternormen überschneiden. Jetzt öffnet die Künstlerin weitere Vorhänge des Unterhaltungskleingewerbes. Dabei holt sie die philippinische “Japayuki”-Erotiktänzerin ans Licht, die in japanischen Herren-Clubs auf spiegelnden Laufstegen als “Entertainment-Servicemaschine” dienstleistet. Das verführerische Anfangsbild von “Host” verzieht sich, als Jocson eine Oni-Maske aus dem Nô-Theater aufsetzt. Nun verkörpert sie eine Hannya, eine gehörnte Dämonin, wie sie auch im alten japanischen Kagura-Tanz aufscheint. Ein gequälter, gefährlicher Geist mit spitzen Hörnern, metallischem Blick und anzüglichem Grinsen. Diesen Blick behält Eisa Jocson bei, als sie Paillettentraum und Maske abgelegt hat und fächerschwingend in einem traditionell aussehenden Kimono weitertanzt. Die Begriffe “host” (Gastgeber) und “ghost” (Geist) sind miteinander verwandt: Als Gespenst einer Geisha kniet sich die Tänzerin vor ihr Publikum. Noch zweimal häutet sich Jocson, bevor sie als postmoderne Dämonin mit Schlangenbewegungen in anregende Musik und geiles Licht tanzt. Corsage, Zopf, schwere Stiefel. Einen Sessel im Schlepptau, stampft sie auf dem Spiegelsteg, bricht die Musik ab und zeigt: Es gibt eine Stille, in der das langsame Öffnen eines Stiefel-Reißverschlusses dem Publikum direkt in den Kopf knackt. Dieses Knacken geht in ein fernes Klopfen über, das immer näher zu kommen scheint, während sich Jocson in extremer Verzögerung bewegt. Es ist wie in einer Unterwelt. Im Gegenlicht umrahmen fahle Konturen ein gelöschtes Gesicht, einen ausradierten Körper. Posen werden in so großer Spannung und so lange durchgehalten, dass Jocsons athletische Beine zittern. Bis eine bestrahlte Discokugel die Unterwelt auflöst und das böse Glitzern wiederkommt. Es folgt die letzte Häutung. Das Gespenst, jetzt in ein sexy Kleidchen mit langen Fransen gehüllt, ist perfekt. Es braucht keine eigene Stimme bei dem Song, zu dem es mechanisch routiniert tanzt: “I want nobody but you” der Wonder Girls. Und Abgang im Zeichen einer trostlosen Heiterkeit. “Host” ist gelungen. (Helmut Ploebst, 25.1.2016) – derstandard.at/2000029678778/Host-Die-Daemonen-einer-Erotiktaenzerin



photo credits: Andreas Endermann c/o tanzhausnrw



Vanini Belarmino in conversation with Eisa Jocson

Having received training at the Philippine High School for the Arts and the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines, what was the impetus that triggered your relationship with contemporary dance? 

I had classical ballet training from 7 till 12 years old. I decided to enter PHSA with a focus on visual arts and took ballet as an elective. I then continued my education in visual arts at the University of the Philippines, College of Fine Arts majoring in Sculpture. On my 3rd year of university, I had to choose between taking up nursing or visual communications. I chose the latter.
I was introduced by my aunt to pole dancing during my last year at university. As the first batch of students learning pole in a dance studio context, we received a lot of stigma. I had been practicing for 2 years, became a pole dance instructor myself before I saw the potential of pole dancing as a tool in my artistic practice. Pole dancing being heavily charged with its own history was in an interesting period of transition and appropriation from the nightclubs to the fitness industry. The shift lies in the embodied engagement with pole dancing. The physical labor, monetary investment, change of lifestyle to become a ‘pole dancer’ is exposed. For those practicing pole dancing in this context, it is no longer an image outside of their sphere but a lived practice that brings with it a different set of conditions as well as community formation.
Stainless Borders: Deconstructing Architectures of Control was the first work inspired by my pole dance practice. The work is an intervention in public space that combines guerrilla street pole dance techniques with graffiti tagging on top of street poles. The work was first developed and performed in Manila and was presented in Coup de Ville (2010) an international art festival in public spaces in Sint Niklaas, Belgium. Within this period, I had an artist residency with FoAM, a Brussels-based cultural laboratory. I was then researching on the politics and potentialities of pole dancing.
In 2011, through Tang Fu Kuen, I was commissioned by In Transit performing arts festival in Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin to make a piece around the theme of Spectatorship. I was at that time in artist residency with Nadine in Brussels. Under these conditions I was able to create my first solo performance work. Death of the Pole Dancer interrogates the way we look at what we think we look at. The audience is brought to reflect on what they witness: a woman during the act of pole dancing. The performance renegotiates notions such as voyeurism and restraint, vulnerability and violence, sexuality and power.

Could you share and elaborate on how you moved forward from ballet, burlesque then pole dancing alongside your visual arts practice towards the development of extended research about the economics of the body? 

Ballet was formative in my physical and movement orientation. My visual arts education and practice gave me access to theoretical discourse. Pole dancing enabled me to investigate movement in relation to its social context.
In 2012, I moved away from pole dance as a tool in my artistic practice. I decided to learn the opposite gendered language in the realm of night work – macho dancing. Visiting several macho clubs on a regular basis, I invited good macho dancers to teach me. It took me a year to become aware of existing movement habits and to transform the movement practice of my body. A change of lifestyle was necessary; going to the gym became part of the research. I was stepping outside my given body politics as a woman as well as expanding spatial sphere into the urban nightclubs of Manila. The work Macho Dancer was made between Manila and Brussels. It premiered in Brussels in 2013 and toured different cities in Europe, America and Asia. I approached Patrick Flores of Vargas Museum to make an exhibition about the process behind Macho Dancer which resulted in a solo exhibition in March 2014 titled: PMA; Philippine Macho Academy. The exhibition refers to a fictional institution of masculinity. It was then invited to the Wifi contemporary dance festival 2014 in Cultural Center of the Philippines.
The idea for the next work came in 2011 when I first visited Japan. Curious about the existing relations of Philippines and Japan I became fascinated with how Filipino/a entertainers negotiated their identity to fit into the demands of their Japanese clients.

During my residency with Saison Foundation in Nov 2014, I met a transgender Filipina hostess who transmitted to me one of her dances. In parallel I was learning Nihon Buyo as a way to get some understanding of Japan through the body. Host was created in Tokyo, Brussels, Yokohama, Metro Manila and finally premiered in Dusseldorf in May 2015. I had to reorient my body away from macho dancing into a malleable vessel that is versed on transcultural notions of feminine representations.
I am currently researching on Filipinos dancing in Disneyland Hong Kong. In 2008, I made my bachelors thesis on the state of Ballet Philippines post-Disney exodus. Where in half of the company members went to work in Hong Kong Disneyland. I am revisiting the subject from the point of view of those who went or are still there.

In the last 5 years, you’ve embarked on an intensive (intensified) process of exploring a range of dance vocabulary, shifting gender orientation, and completing an anthology on the Filipino sexual capital through Death of a Pole Dancer, Macho Dancer and Host – how would you define your role in the retelling and/or appropriation of their stories? 

I approach these subjects from within movement languages specific to each context. There is a long and intimate transmission process between my teachers working in the field (macho clubs, host club in Tokyo) that results in my embodiment of their dance practices. Dancing their dances does not equal to telling their stories. These marginal movement practices loaded by their specific context become tools in destabilizing dominant and comfortable ways of seeing. All 3 works operate in the dissonance between perceived notions of reality and performed embodiment.

In the numerous interviews you’ve given, you’ve consistently highlighted the apparent economic challenges by those working in the professional sex industry, how would you say this has paved way for you as a Filipino artist, performer & choreographer, being heavily supported and presented by European institutions?

I am concerned how the body moves and what conditions makes it move; social mobility and non-mobility as well as movement out of Philippines in the form of migrant work. I am interested in current body languages formed by social conditions. It follows that our body politics is a reflection of the society we live. What is shared between pole, macho, host is that capital is a driving force of movement in the body and in into spatial geographies. I work between Manila and where there is support for what I do; Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Hong Kong etc.

How do you manage the physical and mental demands of these diverse performances particularly that you have been on an on-going tour, research and residency?

I’ve found myself in a state of floating in between intense periods of work. Shifting between extreme focus and blur. It’s a strategy that the body naturally adapts. Working in cycles I physically and mentally prepare slowly. I spend a lot of time on one thing only gearing up at the end of a work phase. Then there is nothing left but to float, rest, sense. And then I start again. There are routines that are vital that I try to keep constant: meditation, chanting, reading, yoga. It is important for me to be grounded back in Manila with family and friends and to keep connected to the context and lived reality of the Philippines.

Vanini Belarmino is curator, producer and writer, trained in theatre arts, art history, European cultural policy and management. She is Founder and Managing Director of Belarmino&Partners, an international cultural and arts consultancy, established in Berlin (2008) and Singapore (2011). Vanini is a 2015 Asian Cultural Council Curatorial Fellow. 


APR 23 2014



In an unlikely underground bar in the outskirts of Geneva, as part of the Antigel festival last February, contemporary Filipina dancer and artist Eisa Jocson delivered Macho Dancer (2013), a solo performance based on her study of male macho dancers, a distinct breed of performers who haunt Manila’s gay bar scene. Trained as a visual artist and with a background in ballet, Jocson investigates representations of the body. ArtAsiaPacific sat down with the artist to discuss her views on exposing gender biases, the politics of seduction and what constitutes Filipino identity.

Macho Dancer WTP #05

EISA JOCSON performs Macho Dancer, 2013. Photo by Giannina Ottiker. Courtesy the artist.

In your solo Death of the Pole Dancer, first performed at the 2011 Transit festival in Berlin, you portray a sensual female dancer, moving vertically up, down and around the pole, with almost mechanical precision. In Macho Dancer, however, you completely transform your body movements into those of a man. How did you learn to dance like this?

For Macho Dancer, I often visited a bar called Adonis close to my house. This club became my macho school where I asked macho dancers to become my mentors. In the beginning, when I invited them to teach me in my house, they would bring a back-up person with them. They did not really trust my request and indeed, it is strange for a young woman to ask for macho dancing lessons. I would also study YouTube videos and recordings of my macho lessons at home. I copied the movements and practiced everyday, recording myself on video and reviewing what needed to be improved.

Your rendition is incredibly accurate, the audience sees a young man dancing on stage, with your cowboy boots and shorts. How did you achieve that degree of control in your facial expressions and body movements?

I went to the gym! That made a huge difference in how I approached macho dancing. I became aware of my muscles and how to engage them in movement. I learned a whole new body language—posture, stance, walk, gestures, gaze, ways of gyration and undulation—all through the physical quality of my body and my muscles.


EISA JOCSON performs Macho Dancer, 2013. Photo by Giannina Ottiker. Courtesy the artist.

How did this develop into the Macho Dancer theme?

It was only when a foreigner friend pointed out that he had never seen this kind of macho dancing before in clubs outside of the Philippines that I started to take an interest in macho dancing. I became more and more fascinated by the physical quality and vocabulary of this type of performance and started researching how it all began.

Macho dancing is performed by young men for both male and female clients. It is an economically motivated language of seduction that employs notions of masculinity as body capital. The language is a display of the glorified and objectified male body as well as a performance of vulnerability and sensitivity. The music used in macho dancing is mostly power ballads, sung by artists such as Mariah Carey or Celine Dion, as well as rock and soft rock, like Metallica and Scorpions.

These kinds of love songs from the ’80s and ’90s are heard everywhere in Manila, when riding jeepneys or on the radio. What is this fascination with nostalgic music?

Yes, this music is pervasive in Metro Manila. I find that the movements of these macho dancers are really dictated by this type of music—they physicalize a kind of limbo state that is neither here nor there. Their bodies move through thick nostalgia, seemingly in slow motion and stretched over time.


EISA JOCSON, sketches from the “Philippine Macho Academy” exhibition at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum, 2014, Quezon City. Courtesy the artist.

At one point in your performance, the music and smoke machines turn off and we just see and hear your body physically pounding the stage as you throw yourself onto your knees and gyrate. It’s very different from pole dancing, isn’t it?

It’s quite the opposite. Pole dancing is vertically oriented and works with the illusion of lightness and grace, while macho dancing is horizontally oriented, and works on the illusion of weight and volume. It’s more compact.

You have also created sketches of your Macho Dancer work, which were presented at your recent show at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum in Metro Manila. Can you tell us more about these?

The sketches were made for the “Philippine Macho Academy” exhibition and are a first draft. They are straightforward and didactic, and help illustrate and break down the physical principles of macho dancing. The process of deconstructing the movement vocabulary by text and illustration helped me to clarify and define the physical principles in macho dancing that I experienced.

The Philippine Macho Academy is a fictive structure or institution that serves as a classroom where the principles of macho dancing are fleshed out and conveyed. The exhibition is a documentation of my research and an articulation of the vocabulary of macho dance movement. It comprises artifacts, texts, drawings, video, installation and performance. I offered introductory workshops every Friday of the exhibition at the museum. Approximately six to eight people showed up each time.


Jocson’s Basic Macho Dance Manual, part of the “Philippine Macho Academy” exhibition at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum, 2014, Quezon City. Courtesy the artist.

You have worked with other dancers in the past, any upcoming collaborations? What themes will you be working on next? 

Currently, I’m researching the japayuki phenomenon in Japan, where exported Filipino entertainers perform in what are known as “salarymen clubs.” I’m thinking about naming this piece “The Hostess” and it would become part of a trilogy, after Death of the Pole Dancerand Macho Dancer. All of my work converges around this theme of the Filipino body and its labor capital in both the local and global entertainment industry.

I’ll be working on a new creation with Daniel Kok, a Singaporean choreographer and pole dancer, as well as with choreographer Arco Renz on the subject of pole dancing in a work that will premiere in Singapore later this year.

Learn more about Eisa Jocson’s work here.

Marlyne Sahakian is the Philippines desk editor for ArtAsiaPacific.