Arts & Leisure

The female identity in Eisa Jocson’s ‘Host’

Posted on June 29, 2016

SHE STOOD very still holding a parasol, clad in a traditional Japanese kimono, with seductive red spotlight shining on her. She started with small movements, moving to bigger ones, and as the music played on she slowly stripped off every layer that clothed her -- until almost none is left. And even when the music stopped, she danced as if it still played on.

Then, Eisa Jocson ended her performance by putting on a tasseled top -- breasts exposed despite the cover-up -- with an upbeat Korean pop song playing and a sweet smile on her face.

The last time the contemporary dancer had a performance in the Philippines was in 2014, with “Macho Dancer”, her depiction of male dancers in night clubs at the WiFi Body Independent Contemporary Festival. This time she came back for dance.MNL: The Philippine Dance Festival, a biennial event presented by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and Ballet Philippines, in cooperation with Philippine Ballet Theatre and Ballet Manila from June 14 to 26.

On June 23, Ms. Jocson performed “Host”, a “one-woman-entertainment-service-machine” representing Filipino female and transgender hostesses in the clubs of Tokyo, Japan.

“The start of this piece was about the immediate relationships between Japan and the Philippines. It was my first time in Tokyo when I started questioning about the relationship,” she said. “The most pressing [concern] was there were a lot of Filipino entertainers working in Japan.”

Ms. Jocson researched about this phenomenon and came up with her study called “Economic Body” during her residency with Saison Foundation in 2014.

“I became really interested on how these entertainers negotiated and performed, in the context of Japanese entertainment clubs. Like how they negotiate their femininity, or their Filipino identity in relation to the idea of the female-male identity in Japan,” she said.

She also met a Filipino transwoman entertainer who danced a certain piece that caught her eye. Ms. Jocson asked the entertainer to teach her that dance. The transwoman had trained in Nihon Buyo, a traditional Japanese dance, and Shin Buyo, the “new dance,” which Ms. Jocson incorporated in “Host.”

“I asked her to teach me this piece and she gladly taught me, and she thought it was good to pass it on and to somehow have a different representation of entertainers in Japan,” Ms. Jocson said. “It took me a month to learn the dance [Nihon Buyo] because it was simple, but the changes are so minute.”

To the Nihon Buyo and Shin Buyo, she added the “Sexbomb” style of dancing which she learned directly from the popular Filipino all-girl dance group. She bought the rights to the dance, practiced it for about a year, and decided to include it in “Host” because, according to her, it was another alien language that she had to learn.

For the finale of her piece -- which was a bit unexpected for everyone who watched -- Ms. Jocson shifted from an intense and music-less exhibition of body movement to a lively K-pop song, Wondergirls’ “Nobody.”

“The last one was an afterthought,” she said. “There should be a karaoke song in the end and I was thinking in terms of female form, somehow there is a wave of K-Pop entertainment that is colonizing Asia. The notion of femininity or femininity in general is actually changing in the K-Pop model.”

She added: “In a way, this is a study of feminine representations in different contexts, the Asian context, transmitted on my body.”

The integration of the different dances into one piece, Ms. Jocson said, was deeply rooted in the Filipino identity of halo-halo or mixing and matching things.

She said the shift of music and sensibilities were representations coming from certain social and economic conditions.

“If you strip everything, we’re all the same. The loop, how it ended with ‘Nobody,’ is a reminder that we must perform a different femininity,” she said.

Although admittedly, Ms. Jocson said, her piece may be something that is not comfortable to watch, most audiences who have seen it in different parts of the world, especially in Europe, said it was something important.

“For me it’s quite interesting and important for a work to show periphery, something that is hidden, something that is kept and not talked about,” she said. “It’s kind of a dream for me to bring it back here, under these conditions, because [‘Host’] has very complex, technical requirements, that works with theater space.”

Even if “Host” is an illustration of the entertainment service, Ms. Jocson said the interaction with the audience is different in theater than in night clubs.

“In a club, you pay to watch the performance. So, in a sense, the people are entitled to consume something because it’s really a product. And inside the theater, I hope the performance is there as an exchange, as opposed to something that you consume,” she said.

As the subjects deal with a lot of gaze, Ms. Jocson said the piece really had to show 360 degrees of “hosting,” unlike with “Macho Dancer” that the body is raised for the audience to look up.

“This was a very good audience, and I felt the exchanges in the gaze. I feel very supported in my home turf,” she said.

Her performance was capped with roaring cheers and applause and whistling from her Filipino audience. -- Camille Anne M. Arcilla