From the Fringes to the Center

Joyen Santos talks about bringing bondage to the CCP, no strings attached.

by Philbert Dy
Joyen Santos is the very public face of local kink, her various shows and workshops giving the curious access to performances and lessons in the arts of bondage and burlesque. She has been tying up people for years now, and has been prominently featured in various publications. But because of the nature of her work, her particular form of artistry has mostly been experienced in smaller, alternative performance spaces by very specific audiences. But this is changing, as the aesthetic value of what she creates through rope and the various accoutrements of burlesque can no longer be denied. On February 10, as part of Fringe Manila, Santos is going to be given her biggest stage yet with a show at the CCP called INFERNA. She talks about what it means to bring bondage to the Cultural Center:

So the show is in the CCP. Were there considerations made based on the location? Is the show substantially different from your other performances because it’s in what most would consider a much more “mainstream” art space?

It is my greatest dream and an honor to be performing at the CCP – it feels like a recital. Artists and performers don’t get many chances to pursue a dream project, and so INFERNA is a show that will push my boundaries and use everything I know as the only openly practicing rope bondage dominatrix of the country. The CCP and Fringe Manila have reviewed my performances, and are both encouraging me to give it my best shot – show something that the country has never seen before.

How does one go about proposing a show like this to the CCP?

INFERNA is a show that I proposed to Fringe Manila – the country’s largest and most awaited multi-arts festival. I have been performing rope bondage at the festival since they began here in Manila. This year, Fringe partnered with heavyweight venues such as the CCP and the Power Mac Center Spotlight, and they were the ones who proposed my show to the CCP. I was honestly surprised that the CCP was receptive, but Fringe Manila took good care in pitching and selling my show to them because of the years of mutual support we have with each other.


Was it always your intention to bring your particular art form to more mainstream spaces? Where else do you see yourself performing?
I do what I want. This is my full-time job now, so I have some key performance indicators to aim for this year, but interesting projects come my way every now and then. In the long run, I have items in my rope bucket list like “suspend someone from the Eiffel Tower” and “tie a completely nude model up in a church” – things that pique my interest.



Do you feel any particular pressure stemming from performing in the CCP?
Yes, I do feel a great amount of pressure. But I am bringing the biggest guns I have in this show.


For people who have no idea this kind of thing has been going on, can you just talk about what they can expect to see at the show? What are they going to experience?
In a nutshell, they may expect seductive androgynous models being tied up and suspended up in the air by a rather attractive young woman. There also may or may not be fire and high heels involved.


Is there a thematic concept behind this particular performance? Is there an artistic that you want to make?
I am the marketing and events arm of the local kink scene, and my role has always been to introduce the curious and remain available and accessible for the curious. I specialize in showing the beautiful side of BDSM with my performances to remind people every now and then that we freaks exist, and we look pretty darn good.


Do you see shows like this having artistic relevance beyond its aesthetics?
I think that the artistic relevance beyond aesthetics is the main attraction here. I get remarks related to feminism and empowerment every time I do a performance. Some people in my audience approach me afterwards saying that I unlocked something in them that they never thought was there to begin with. On my end, I am purely on the side of aesthetics, but apparently, what I do means something else for every single person who views it.


Can you talk about your models for this performance? Is there any particular reason you chose them for this show?
Star and Celine are some of the strongest performers I’ve ever met in the underworld. These two are unapologetic in creating tidal waves in the realm of sexuality and gender in their performances. I am thrilled and somewhat scared to have us three combined in one stage!


What are your thoughts on BDSM and kink becoming more mainstream in general?
I think that awareness is a double-edged sword. The public events that I have been regularly holding are nothing compared to the global phenomenon called 50 Shades of Grey. The novel and the movie do a great job ofinforming everyone of the existence of the BDSM scene. However, there are a whole lot of inaccuracies in the work. Initial awareness about BDSM and kink is a great first step towards understanding the subject matter, but we have many further steps to take before at least getting close to comprehending the basics.


There’s a disclaimer in the description on the event. What’s that for exactly? Are you expecting violent reactions?
I always have disclaimers stating that my events are of an erotic and adult nature and consent is freely and knowledgeably given upon purchasing a ticket. This is how I handle all my BDSM endeavors. I always make sure that I communicate to whoever I am engaging with, and he or she knows exactly what they are getting into. I do this from a simple meeting at a coffee shop discussing a rope bunny application, to a show this size and calibre. This is based on legal consultation on being able to showcase my art.


What kind of audience are you expecting? What kind of audience would you like to see?
I honestly do not know for sure. So far, I am receiving feedback from a couple of loyal followers and organic promotion amidst average people on social media. Maybe a show this level would attract the big bad bosses of Philippine art? That would be my greatest honor.


What do you hope people get out of the experience?
As with everything that I do, I hope that the average person would gain some level of appreciation for alternative art. It has always been my goal to show the raw and violent dimension of sexuality, because I believe that this is nothing to be ashamed of. It may be difficult to digest for some, but this exists, and this could even be the best thing you’d ever realize in your life.


Where do you go from here? What’s next after performing in what is literally the center of culture in the Philippines?
I have a couple of events planned for the year in Manila, so it is business as usual for me. I am, however, also trying to get into international workshops and shows to further develop and hone my skills as a performer and educator, so I may have more to bring to the table the next time something this big comes around again. I am representing the Philippines in the Asian Burlesque Festival in NYC this year. I am still very young and inexperienced at what I do, but I am investing time and energy to keep my audience on their toes.


Joyen’s INFERNA happens on February 10, 8PM at the CCP Black Box Theater. Tickets are available at Ticketworld.