“Careless Whisper” was always our song

Eisa Jocson’s Philippine Macho Academy

Except for the bright blue cross that hangs above the stage, there was nothing light–or good, true, or beautiful–about Eisa Jocson’s performance at the opening of Philippine Macho Academy” her solo exhibition at the Vargas Museum – a product of extensive research on “macho dancing,” which crudely translates to male striptease. There was nothing light about it, although it was funny at times–mostly because it was so uncomfortable to watch.

There is, however, much to be said about discomfort in the times when it’s actually necessary. Jocson began her performance by jumping onstage, but that was the only time her feet would actually leave the ground. Through all four songs (something from Ride the Lightning and “Careless Whisper” are all I can remember), Jocson’s body articulated a vocabulary of weight, of heft, of remaining intimidating despite the perpetual observation and consequent objectification that dancing for an audience requires–all the while maintaining the objective of seducing her audience. In doing so, Jocson’s piece manifests how the act of looking shifts once a male body takes the spotlight and begins shedding its clothes.

First, Jocson makes it clear that these aren’t clothes, but armor; and taking us through the steps, she was careful to articulate that when a man disrobes before a crowd, there is nothing passive about it. Despite her classical training (or because of it), we were shown a dance that has no use for pointed feet or delicate caresses. To put the “macho” in “Macho dancing”, one is not entertained, one is assaulted; and every step is a means of taking aim, flexing a limb, or closing a fist, shifting the potential of subservience in the service industries, where even gimps get to wear leather.

What caught my interest though was the legitimating power of staging Philippine Macho Academy in a curated space, and the role of the museum in taking something that exists outside the terms of mainstream society, and putting it on a pedestal. Jocson assigns Macho dancing a vocabulary that translates into a manual, choreographs it, takes it on tour, and finally performs it using bodies that had nothing to do with its genesis. By providing instruction for something “upright” and “respectable”, something citizens should not see and should know nothing about (except as the butt of every joke) Jocson acknowledges the often violent process of taking the invisible framework (the dregs, the illegals) of neoliberal capitalism into the public realm.

Philippine Macho Academy runs at the ground floor and west wing galleries of the Vargas Museum until March 8, 2014.

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