Their bodies were “cosmic instruments,” as the dancers would later say, living in the bluesy piano that filled the room. Their dancing was poetic, phrases repeating with variation, and series of hand gestures and sweeping, extending-then-breaking arms ebbed and flowed with the connotation of the music—carrying the same inflection as someone would in their voice as they spoke. Their shadows painted the walls.
Over two hours, this longform, visual poem would come in and out of moments of bliss, cataloguing information as raw as dirt and as manufactured as artificial intelligence while ultimately reminding the audience of the innate comfort that comes from listening to what our bodies, dreams and ancestors teach us—ways of knowing that are often overlooked and undervalued in American culture today.
“Ways of Knowing,” tonight and Nov 7-10, challenged through the creative process narrow methods of gathering information while highlighting the magic that occurs when we learn through creating. Presented at the Experimental Station, a vaulted warehouse space crafted to feel warm and intimate, Honey Pot Performance shared an evening of multidisciplinary work that similarly crafted a year of expansive, multifaceted research into a specific experience rooted in our connections as human beings with each other.
The piece began with short clips of projections (the full projected videos or audio were later woven between sections of dance) and ended with a communal meal and discussion of themes from the work, bringing the audience through sister processes: of learning and making; of unlearning “failed” or false knowledge and editing work; and of sharing what you’ve discovered with your community.
By engaging an intimate audience in a performance that mixed spoken word, movement, visuals and a shared meal, Honey Pot Performance pulled audiences into a direct understanding of what it means to learn through making and to better understand the world around us through dance and performative experiences.
Criticism of the artificial intelligence and technologies that permeate the focus of contemporary knowledge gathering played a large role in the second half of the performance. The trio of performers (and co-creators) Meida McNeal, Abra Johnson and Jennifer Ligaya took on constricted, robotic motions to a sci fi-esque sound score (designed by co-creator Jo de Presser) that highlighted very real concerns regarding the dehumanization of the thinking surrounding AI and other scientific advancements. What do these advancements mean for our bodies and our humanness?
Clips of conversations from the many community dinners that served as research for “Ways of Knowing” dug into this question, highlighting the social consequences of this one-track-mind way of thinking. As the patterns and algorithms of these so-called advancements are replicated, Honey Pot Performance argued that inequality is merely codified. McNeal sat on a row of three chairs speaking while Johnson stood behind, her hands slowly creeping across McNeal’s throat and cheek. They switched back and forth discussing and illustrating the scope of this inequality, including the stress that black women feel when mastering expert skills and expert knowledge that comes from generations of being ignored by the people in power—generations of their knowledge being ignored.
But by mixing meaningful media with live performance, Honey Pot Performance pointed towards a symbiotic relationship that can exist between technology and the natural science of the body to form a holistic understanding of the world and maximize the impact of the creative process.
As Ligaya joined Johnson and McNeal at the trio of chairs, they became a supportive community shifting between images of support, love and strength: the three of them wrapped in one hug, then Ligaya leaned forward while McNeal placed one hand on Ligaya’s head and her other arm around Johnson, then the three women stared confidently forward, holding each other’s hands. The audience was then invited to participate in a communal meal on stage (prepared by Gabi Aguilar-Walker), to actively investigate for themselves knowing through practice, community and the body.
There are a number of dance artists exploring ways to make dance less frontal, less “I show, and you watch,” and how to make performance an experience or a conversation where audience members have the opportunity to critically contemplate what they are seeing in real time. Through the series of dinners that led to “Ways of Knowing,” to the integration of those conversations into the live performance, to the final dinner that the audience shared onstage, Honey Pot Performance manifested their call to revolutionize how we consider knowledge in everyday life into a tangible activity that audience members could understand in their own bodies.
“Ways of Knowing” proved the merit of multifaceted learning and artistic discourse through a performance experience that was equally as complex as it was rooted to the clear-cut honesty of the body. With four more opportunities to experience this work, I advocate that anyone who is able, take an evening to connect with the Chicago arts community and to foster stronger understanding of the intrinsic value of dance.
“Ways of Knowing” runs through Nov. 10 at the Experimental Station, 6100 S Blackstone Ave. Tickets are available via the event link below.