Dancer and blogger Unique Tay reviews Uchenna Dance / The Head Wrap Diaries on Thursday 2 November 2017 at DanceXchange, Birmingham.
The Head Wrap Diaries explores femininity, beauty, sisterhood and hair, afro hair to be exact, of three young females who express their experiences and complexities, with their hair and identity. Most importantly Uchenna Dance Company utilises its performance potential by infusing African diasporic dance styles while bringing awareness to how the European beauty standard has caused a stain on the black woman’s identity….her hair!
A splash full of energy, vibrancy and powerful yet meaningful message
Set in a dynamic hair salon, The Head Wrap Diaries is a combination of Contemporary, African, waacking, vogue and Afro House dance styles… oh and a splash of beatbox too. The Head Wrap Diaries captures the audience from the start as the performers engage with the audience asking, ‘are you my 5 o’clock?’ The Patrick centre instantly turned into a hair salon, as the performers interacted with their audience heightening humour. Two audience members were taken on stage to sit patiently in what seems to be the hairdresser’s queue. I found this such an innovative idea to encourage audience participation. The audience members were sat on stage throughout the duration of the performance. It was unnecessary to be on stage throughout the duration, which may have caused the members to feel uncomfortable and unprepared. However, they were encouraged to test out their head wrap skills with the performers and were luckily gifted with the head wraps.
Apart from dance, The Head Wrap Diaries included powerful keywords that black women are often bombarded with that crush self-esteem and drag black women through oppression. While Habitat Ajayi and Shanelle Clemenson were roughly styling their clients, Natalie Baily’s hair, words such as DRY, BREAKAGE, SILKY SMOOTH, RELAXED, GOOD HAIR and many more were randomly highlighted. This section was particularly relatable but somewhat painful to hear over and over, that afro hair is nothing but…..a problem. The term ‘good hair’ is still heavily weighted within the African & Caribbean hair and beauty community. ‘Good hair’ stems from resembling hair that is seen as manageable and is of a non-afro hair texture.
I admire that choreographer; Vicki chooses not to dwell on those negative terms. Instead, she flips the table and highlights the true beauty of afro hair, where the performers later call out more positive, uplifting keywords, for instance, BEAUTY, PRIDE, DIVERSITY. The diversity that afro hair allows is a myriad of styles, from braids, twists, bantu knots, locs, which were evidently styled amongst the audience. Yes, The Head Wrap Diaries has indeed ticked the box of encouraging self-love and spreading awareness of the underlying issues Caribbean and African women face with their hair and beauty.
Swiftly glides through the air.. wanting long blonde hair
The Head Wrap Diaries touches different aspects of femininity through creatively infusing dance theatre, dialogues and club dance styles. From impersonating aunty with a patois (Jamaican) accent, precisely played by Natalie Bailey, shares her stories of her visit to the salon requesting a relaxer. To the school playground scene where the performers act as school girls playing hopscotch, ridiculing another girl’s afro hairstyle.
One specific choreography stood out where Habitat Ajayi daydreams and reminisces her junior days of wanting ‘long blonde hair’. She suddenly becomes a young girl again, imitating a child-like voice, skipping, hopping and overly smiling. She expresses her happiness feeling content as though having long blonde hair automatically equates to being beautiful and happy? She swiftly leaps across the stage, landing so eloquently, quietly rolls and stretches her legs softly on the floor, in an almost box split position, she gazes up to the sky smiling. The use of the yellow material wrapped over her head was used to represent long blonde hair. I found this to be a way to encourage the audience’s imagination. I too can recall my junior days around 8-10yrs old of aspiring to European beauty. This created such a confusion and distress to my own personal identity. Both as a young girl and a young dancer who loved ballet… I remember at 8yrs old pleading with my mother to take me to the hairdressers to get my hair styled, exactly the same way as the Barbie dolls in my magazines. Then at 16yrs old I’d be worried that I wouldn’t be able to tie my hair back in a bun slick back, for my ballet exams simply because my natural hair wasn’t bone straight. So I’d cheat and get my hair relaxed (chemically straightened), to keep it straight, neat and presentable. The extreme measures that women and young girls go through to conform to the ideal beauty are psychologically damaging.
Later Habitat Ajayi snaps out of her comfortable daydream, as her mother Shanelle Clemenson, who stares at her with deep bloodshot eyes. Prompting her to sit and get her hair done, while her mother gets the comb and ‘hair oil’. As she stomps and struts her way to sit between her mother’s legs, she sits in the splits with one eye open, reaching forward and twitching as though she has the hiccups.
Here Vicki’s choreographic approach implements contemporary dance techniques and the freedom contemporary dance brings to the theatre. She stresses her agony with the audience and quickly wraps her arms around her legs hoping her mother will stop. At every twitch she bounces and stretches her leg up high, pointing her toes.
This mother and daughter moment while styling one another’s hair, is a common cultural practice within African and African diasporic communities. Where daughters sit between their mothers’ legs with a range of combs, oils, butters and colourful beads. A time for sisters to connect.
The overall performance was enlightening, vibrant, informative and necessary.
The post-show talk consisted of a head wrap tutorial and allowing the audience to socialise and network. It would have been even greater with the opportunity to actually sit and talk with the director also. The performance reached many different communities, cultures and people from diverse backgrounds. All came to be entertained and educated about politics of afro hair, the beauty, and of course portraying the importance of self-acceptance and self-love through dance.
Vicki Ibokwe followed her dream to stardom of pursuing a long-term career in dance. Having graduated in MA Cultural Leadership, Vicki committed to developing her creative skill set in a wide range of dance avenues. From working across many disciplines at East London Dance, successfully enrolling onto the Trailblazer Scheme 2007-2008 with ADAD (Association of Dance of the African Diaspora), to achieving further choreographic work at the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Sochi 2014) as a Mass Movement Choreographer and more. Vicki has transformed her dreams into a profession of artistry with her dance company Uchenna Dance.
Catch my (Unique Tay) previous dance reviews, blogs and my creative journey at uniquetay.co.uk.