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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 explores labor and social inequalities as reflected through power relationships between humans and cartoon anthropomorphic animals at Disneyland.
Hong Kong Disneyland greatly relies on Filipino employees who are highly skilled, energetic, and world-class entertainers.
Manila Zoo is the third of Jocson’s Happyland Series from 2017. The series explores Filipino labor as an indispensable element of the entertainment industry.
In Happyland Part 1: Princess, two Filipino performers use the figure of Snow White to deconstruct the conventional image of the “ideal and dreamy” princess. Happyland Part 2: Your Highness is a collaboration with five dancers from Ballet Philippines. It depicts a group of ballet dancers dressed in tutus entering the Disney workforce. The third part features Filipinos playing happy cartoon animals in the Disneyland park.
In Disney’s factory of “happiness,” animals and objects are anthropomorphized to embody American values, says Jocson. Disneyland has become a utopian zoo symbolizing happiness. Lions are kings, while monkeys, crickets, and fish have supporting roles, which at Disneyland are often played by Filipinos. 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,” says Jocson. “It also reflects the labor and social inequalities at Disneyland.”
Jocson is a contemporary choreographer and dancer from the Philippines who trained as a visual artist and has a background in ballet. For many years she has been using dance to explore labor relations and socioeconomics in the Philippines.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Jocson and four other performers have been livestreaming their shows from the Philippines. They used Zoom to give their performance at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall on August 28 and 29.