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Mela highlights South Asian culture with synchronicity and skill

By Emily Stott

Section: Arts, Featured

November 30, 2012

Mela, hosted by the South Asian Students’ Association, introduced students to “Kahaani: Our Story” through music, dance and spoken word performances on Nov. 17. Set in front of a detailed and beautifully colored backdrop, this year’s show demonstrated the close-knit community that South Asian students bring to Brandeis as a whole. The performances tied together students’ stories in creative and meaningful ways. In the Brandeis tradition of a commitment to social justice, proceeds and donations from the performance went to Apne Aap, an NGO based in India that provides support services and opportunities to girls and women in the pursuit of combating sex trafficking.

Each of the performances of the evening was astounding on its own, but the show as a whole showcased how music, dance and art can bring together students of different backgrounds to describe their individual stories in their own ways. The theme of the show, “Kahaani: Our Story,” was woven throughout the performances, highlighting the different ways people express their personal stories. Each performance gave the audience a different glimpse of that group’s “story,” whether it was a group of guys trying to win over a girl, a dance for a successful harvest, or a Bollywood love story.

Even though many of the groups were culturally diverse, there was a sense of community among both the audience and the performers. “The majority of the people in Junior Dance were not South Asian, but they were friendly, supportive and encouraging and helped each other out,” said Evelyn Wiyanto ’14, a performer. When a group began its performance, or a photo was featured in one of the beautiful and funny slideshows, at least one person from the audience cheered for the individual in the photo or for the choreographer who worked unbelievable hours on the dance. Matching a name to the face and artwork gave the audience an understanding of the people who put so much effort into making Mela one of the best-attended cultural events of the year. It showed how supportive the cast was of each other and the sense of community that filled the packed Levin Ballroom.

“What makes Mela my favorite event on campus every year is the fact that we are able to see all of this diversity revealed in one place. At the same time, we get to see the audience realize how extraordinary the Brandeis community is,” Deepti Kanneganti ’14, co-president of SASA, said.

The performances were also outstanding on an individual basis. There were four dances, one for each class year, and they only improved in technique and energy from first-year to senior dances. Enthusiasm and smiles were clearly evident and the choreography was unique and in sync. Dancers of all levels practiced for many hours to learn something perhaps previously unfamiliar, but in the end each dancer confidently displayed his or her talent.

Chak De ’Deis, choreographed by Sindhura Sonnathi ’14 and Niv Baskaran ’15, was an incredible display of talent and enthusiasm. The dancers were always in time with each other and moved precisely. They genuinely looked happy and excited to be performing and this allowed their dance to become a believable representation of a Bollywood love story. The Bengali Dance, choreographed by Zara Wasi Islam ’15, Arifa Sayyidah Ahsan ’15 and Nusrath Yusuf ’13, combined both traditional Bengali tribal dance and broader Indian dance traditions. Dancers were constantly moving around the stage into different formations, using props and arranging themselves in a way that made them form a symbol, enhancing the performers and dance itself as more than the sum of their parts.

The loudest cheering was heard for Bhangra, choreographed by Prasant Lokinendi MA and Gauri Thaker ’14. Bhangra, a folk dance with intense energy, left the audience in awe, baffled that dancers could possibly sustain their powerful movements for the entire song.

The solo performances were clearly a result of thoughtful planning and detailed practice. Pooja Gupta ’16 choreographed and performed a Bharatanatyam, a polished dance that showcased her talent. She made a complicated dance look effortless and natural. Usman Hameedi ’12 used spoken word to tell the heartfelt and sincere message of his story. He mentioned specific students from whom he drew strength and this gesture was met with a supportive response from the audience. One person’s story, merged with another’s, carried the theme of “Kahaani” throughout the show.

The emcees, Nabila Kabir ’13, Jay Dev ’13 and Nikhil Pallikonda ’16, each brought something different to the show in between sets. Although some of the stories they told were humorous, the primary intent of their messages was to explain their stories, all in their own way. As if reading from a letter, each emcee spoke about struggles to belong, identify with their culture and social aspects of life. The thoughtful nature of these stories kept the show together as a whole, knitting each performance into the next without a break in the continuity of the theme or tempo.

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