By Keli Stewart
(Because all art is connected and I left their performance as a possessed woman with a desire to write more of us. Thank you Tidal Basin Review for allowing me to blog. I’ve enjoyed it fully.)
The Ladies Ring Shout (LRS), a Honey Pot Performance, exists as a performative mining of the contemporary black female experience. Both, field holler and block call, this group of women offer a much needed exploration into the black urban female narrative by bridging our communal stories with personal narrative, filtered through an artistic, yet sociopolitical lens. This is what you get when black women perform black womanhood boldly, a mixture of ritual and rite, something from the gut, something beautiful, electric and pulpy that nests in your marrow, then floods your flesh.
I am immediately struck by the opening scene from their newest piece, which premiered at Joseph Ravens’ Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery here in Chicago early August 2011. It begins with a moan that starts out faint enough to suggest the day in and day out of the black female experience. You hear your grandmamma in their throats, your wild auntie, folk magic, all night jackin’ at a Chicago house-party, sorrow and surrender, a “this is how we got here” vibrato that is fluid and guttural. They translate four hundred years of story into a wicked cacophonous church-house moan that fills the room as an offering, an ancestral outcry of sorts.
Currently, LRS comprises three core members Felicia Holman, Abra Johnson and Meida McNeal whose movement to ”Black Betty” and “Brown Girl in the Ring,” resonates with collectivity and kinship as their bodies call and respond to one another with emotional threads. We are somehow “brought back” through their work and updated. The combination of ritual, text and movement fills in the present-day gaps of our experiences that go unvoiced and unheard. They perform all things commonplace and magical: memory, identity, mental
health, the politics of being black, female and educated, loss, sexuality and illness, violence, the black female image in media and culture and single motherhood, while challenging un/popular ideas of history and myth.
The Ladies Ring Shout continues to bring our stories from margin to center. Borrowing from the tradition of performances that fully embrace the complexity of black women, I left the performance feeling as if I’d entered a circle of women garmenting weapons for battle. While one woman sang a meditation on my life, another woman prayed over me.
If you want to get more information about The Ladies Ring Shout:
Booking info for The Ladies Ring Shout
Co-devised by Felicia Holman, Abra Johnson & Meida McNeal
Artistic Director, Honey Pot Performance