Mane event: Dance-theater show examines race and identity through hair

Mane event: Dance-theater show examines race and identity through hair
Hayim Heron

Hair! Flow it, show it — long as God can grow it!

A troupe of artists will comb through the hairy subjects of beauty, race, and identity, as expressed through hairdos and hair don’ts. The interactive dance and theater performance “Hair and Other Stories,” opening at Bric House in Fort Greene on Jan. 31, will examine beauty norms and their connection to racism, classism, and other social scourges, according to the show’s choreographer.

“We’re looking at the standards of beauty, who defines the standard of beauty, what is considered good hair, what is considered bad hair, and why,” said Samantha Spies. “We’re looking at systems and institutions that are upholding this oppression.”

Spies, and other members of the Urban Bush Women, were inspired by “Hair Stories,” a 2001 production by the group that focused on black women’s hair. The new production features the manes of people of all genders and backgrounds, but — like the 2001 show — will weave together personal stories, movement, and multimedia elements, Spies said.

The show will start with local artists and hairdressers sharing their own hair-focused stories and leading conversations with audience members, according to Spies. The hour-long pre-show elements are meant to mimic the intimate conversations that happen in black homes and hair parlors, she said.

“In Black American culture, we have this thing that’s ‘kitchen talk’ — there are things that you talk about in the kitchen with your people, with your folks, that you’re not talking about in the living room, or with invited guests. We’re inviting the guests to be a part of this kitchen talk with us,” she said.

The performers will lead audience members through call-and-response activities, and prompt visitors to share their own ideas of what is beautiful and their impressions of race in America, Spies said.

“It is participatory — we are asking the audience to go on the journey with us, not to think that they’re coming in as spectators, but that they’re coming in as co-conspirators,” she said.

Discussing ideas of beauty can lead audience members into a broader conversation about topics that they might not discuss or consider in their daily lives, said the choreographer.

“The root of it is, if we look at beauty, then we have to look at all of the other things that are connected and in relationship to beauty,” Spies said. “It hopefully will open up a discussion that may not be happening otherwise and that gives someone experiencing it a little bit of a curiosity.”

“Hair and Other Stories” at Bric House Ballroom (647 Fulton St. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene, www.bricartsmedia.org). Jan. 31–Feb. 2 and Feb. 7–9 at 8 pm. $25 ($20 in advance).

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.