The dancer in Eisa Jocson’s Death of the Pole Dancer says, “Can you help me?” These four words are the only audible words of the whole performance, and each one punctuates the silent stage with an affect of doubt.
Can we help her? What is in our control? Who is in our control?
Jocson’s 25 minute piece masterfully presents a dancer (Jocson herself) dressed in impossibly high stiletto heels and a leather bikini. In a concert of silence, the dancer spends the majority of the performance assembling, shining and aligning the chromed stripper pole, which she stakes directly in the heart of center stage. The last portion of the performance exhibits the physical effort of the performer, visible by sweat and labored breath–both halfway covered by an invasive pop song beaming from overhead speakers. The end (oh, the end?!?) finds the dancer face down on the floor–legs dangling around the unresponsive pole. To complete Death of the Pole Dancer, the audience must exit the performance space, leaving our performer alone and sprawled on the floor.
After Jocson’s performance I overheard many viewers in the lobby expressing the desire to ask the prone (“dead”) dancer if she was okay or if she needed assistance. Eisa Jocson’s dance elaborates on the notion that the audience can help–that the audience can do something about the uncomfortable mess on stage. But what exactly are the actions Jocson asks us to take? The audience members’ expressions of pity, of shame and of insecurity point to the core of Jocson’s piece: Jocson exposes a dynamic out of balance and a relationship between performer and viewer that needs care and assistance.
Something dies in Jocson’s piece, and Jocson herself is the assassin. A woman in total control of her whole performance, she kills the presupposed power of the audience over her body. Jocson tops from the bottom. She inverts the audience’s gaze. Really, who is powerless in Death of a Pole Dancer? The dancer or the audience?
Jackie Davis is happy to be alive in a time where art can be beautifully ugly. She is honored to walk this Earth surrounded by so many creative geniuses.