Conversation With: ‘Macho Dancer’ Eisa Jocson

Published on 11 October 2017

Photo: Jovel Lorenzo

Trained in ballet and pole dancing, Eisa Jocson pushes the envelope with her gender-bending work, Macho Dancer. We find out more from one of the Philippines’ most provocative dance artists.

By Pamela Ho

Slow gyrations. Body undulations. Bicep flexing. These seductive dance moves performed by young men in Manila nightclubs will be causing some quickening of breath and heartbeats at this year’s da:ns festival – except that they are performed by a woman.

Fascinated by the dance vocabulary of male strippers during a visit to such a club, Philippines-born Eisa Jocson – who is a trained visual artist – approached the young men to teach her. They were initially suspicious of her intentions, but what ensued from their time together was the creation of one of her most iconic works, Macho Dancer, a transgressive gender-bending performance that has toured international festivals, receiving rave reviews everywhere.

Carrying an Advisory 16 rating in Singapore for female upper body nudity and mature themes, Macho Dancer is much more than a flesh feast. Through her work, Jocson makes insightful observations about gender, seduction politics, and power relations. In fact, she will be sharing insights into her socially-informed practice in a performance lecture titled Corponomy. Specially commissioned by the Esplanade for da:ns fest, the lecture will reflect on all her works, produced from 2009 to the present.

This double bill is presented as part of the 12th edition of da:ns festival (20 to 29 October), which promises a captivating line-up of the highest calibre. Its seven ticketed productions include the works of three electrifying female choreographers in their early 30s: Dada Masilo, Rocío Molina and Eisa Jocson; and there are also 75 workshops and masterclasses, and over 70 free performances and activities, to check out.

Ahead of the Singapore premiere of Macho Dancer, The A List speaks to Eisa Jocson about her personal motivations, apprehensions, and hopes for this much-talked-about piece of work.

Watching a macho dance at a club is one thing; learning it from male strippers and performing it on stage is quite another! What compelled you to go all the way with it?

I wanted to shift away from my previous artistic practice that focused on the subject of pole dancing. To challenge my feminine upbringing and movement education that was based on seven years of ballet – from elementary until high school – and pole dancing in the fitness industry, I felt that I needed to expand my physical capacities and confront my gender and social status.

How is macho dancing – as done in the Philippines – different from western Chippendales?

The main difference between macho dancing and western male striptease is that in macho dancing, there is the illusion that time and space becomes more viscous. Movement in macho dancing is slow, sticky, grounded, using tension and opposition with the floor and within the body, while Chippendales is fast, more hip-hop and upbeat. The choice of music in macho dancing veers towards power ballads, soft rock, sometimes hard rock – depending on the macho dancer’s preference and style – but all concerning the subject of love. Western striptease utilises mostly fast beats from house or hip-hop, R&B rhythms.

Photo: Giannina Urmeneta Ottiker
Photo: Giannina Urmeneta Ottiker

Did you feel any apprehension at all?

I wanted to understand the social-cultural and economic conditions that made the macho dance vocabulary manifest. My only apprehension was, if I was able to convincingly embody it.

You went to the gym to gain muscle for this. How did the act of bulking up help you?

Macho dancing is a performance of a desirable, virile male body. A muscular body is an important aspect of this fantasy. Building muscles in the gym helped me to understand and enter this world. It enabled me to gradually access the macho posture and stance as well as volume, body tonicity and grounded-ness.

How has macho dancing impacted your other works? Have there been sacrifices?

I am still creating, touring and performing other works – like Death of the Pole Dancer, Host and Princess – that are very different from macho dancing. Each subject operates within a different social-cultural, economic context and has a very specific physical manifestation. The spectrum of vocabularies influences and informs each other but also gives contrast. To have that variety of movement in your body, it’s very good.

What do you hope Singapore audiences will take away from this experience?

I hope people will question fixed notions that they have in relation to what they experience.

The double-bill of Macho Dancer and Corponomy (Advisory 16) is held at the Esplanade Theatre Studio, 27 and 28 October, 8pm. Click here to find out more, or here to purchase tickets.

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