A Macho Macho Woman

Daniel Larkin raves over Eisa Jocson‘s recent performance at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, titled “Macho Dancer,” calling it “gender-bending cognitive dissonance at its artistic best”:

Jocson learnt a specialized form of male dancing from Manila’s red light district to develop this piece. “Macho Dancing” is unlike go-go boys in New York. It is its own genre best revealed in its own terms by a quick surf on YouTube. Like any dance form, it spans a spectrum but its core elements consist of a man dancing to music, striking several masculine poses, flaunting his physique, and proceeding to strip his clothes. Some of the Filipino macho dancers don’t stand stationary like the go-go boys in US bars. It’s can often resemble a drag show on a stage, where a man is performing a form of hyper-masculinity. …

But the performance was more than mind tricks for gender studies acolytes.

In fact, it was also just plain cool to watch and hear. The interplay of light, fog, gesture, costume, and music made for scintillating visuals that allowed this persona to shine outside the conventional boxes of gender expression. Allowing hybridized gender to be rhythmic and animated by showmanship was exciting. Although, it is tempting to link Jocson to the drag king tradition, a woman appropriating Manila’s specific style of male dancing is simply without any widely known precedent.

In an interview this summer, Jocson spoke about what she expects audiences make of her performance:

My impression is that audiences that come to see Macho Dancer all have strong opinions afterwards, each one very different from another. For example some people think its made for the male gaze, some people think its made for the female gaze, some think its about gender, some about materiality of the body, some about spirituality through the materiality of the body, some about exploitation and social context, some about making the audience feel guilty, some about exoticism, some about objectification, some would react on the position of the piece in the performing arts market, some were curious if I was really a woman or a ladyboy, some were over protective of their partners who came to watch with them, some people have expressed their fascination to the point of fondly proposing marriage… etc…

I perform a proposition. It is up to the audience where they want to take it, how to look at it, how to position themselves in the work. Distance is important to analyze one’s experience of a performance.