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"Manila Zoo" reflects social inequalities in the world of entertainment

By Yali Chen
Filipino choreographer Eisa Jocson’s new production Manila Zoo explored labor and social inequalities as reflected through power relationships between humans and anthropomorphic animals in the Disneyland Park.
Hong Kong’s Disneyland relies much on Filipinos as entertainers. They are employed as highly skilled, energetic, and world-class providers of amusement.
Manila Zoo was the third of Jocson’s Happyland Series in 2017. This series explores Filipino labor as an indispensable input for the entertainment industry.
In Happyland Part 1: Princess, two Filipino performers used the figure of Snow White to deconstruct the public image of the “ideal and dreamy” princess. Happyland Part 2: Your Highness is a collaboration with 5 dancers from Ballet Philippines. It depicts a group of ballet dancers in their tutus entering the Disney workforce. The third part features Filipinos acting as happy animals in the Disneyland Park.
In Disney’s factory of “happiness,” animals and objects are anthropomorphized to embody American values, Jocson said. Disneyland has become a utopian zoo symbolizing happiness. Lions are kings while monkeys, crickets and fish are supporting roles. Filipinos often have the supporting roles in Disneyland. They perform in brightly decorated environments to keep humans entertained inside the empire’s global playground.
Manila Zoo implies that Filipinos whose jobs transform them into happy anthropomorphic animals are actually captured animals,” Jocson said. “It also reflects the labor and social inequalities in Disneyland.”
Trained as a visual artist with a background in ballet, Jocson is a contemporary choreographer and dancer from the Philippines. She has used dance for many years to discuss labor relations and socioeconomic phenomena in the Philippines.
The coronavirus pandemic made Jocson and four other performers livestream their shows from the Philippines. They used Zoom video conferencing for their performance at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall between August 28 and August 29.