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‘Formosa’ offers singing, dancing, acting and food

As my first cultural show at Brandeis, “Formosa” sure set the bar high—really high. The Taiwanese Student Association’s (TSA) annual show, “Formosa,” displayed a variety of talent with two singers, a Chinese folk dance, a modern dance, a lion dance and a dance about a traditional Taiwanese dessert, on Feb. 16 in Levin Ballroom. To cap off the event, TSA served free bubble tea and bento boxes.

First and foremost, “Formosa’s” theme was hilarious and illuminating. “The show’s purpose is to give audiences a glimpse into Taiwan’s culture whether that be some overarching idea, or some very specific customs,” “Formosa” co-coordinator Nicole Huang ’19 said. It took TSA a couple of weeks to land on the “Save the Date” theme.

Co-coordinator Vanessa Sun ’19 developed the theme when she brought up her cousin’s wedding in discussion with a few other E-board members. Since both members of the happy couple were Asian American, they held a Western wedding for friends and a more traditional one for family, according to Huang. “This was really intriguing to us, and we could all relate to the struggle of having to please everyone with a life milestone as significant as a marriage,” Huang said.

The theme worked well. The backdrop on stage consisted of white flowers, white curtains and a shimmering gold “Formosa 2017” sign that evoked wedding decorations.

“In addition to learning about the differences between Taiwanese wedding cultures and those of a Western one, we wanted our audience to realize the importance of respecting cross-cultural relationships and the difference between compromising and integrating,” Sun said.

In the introduction video and on-stage skit, ICC Representative Candice Ji ’20 played a girl named Katie, who was set up to marry Kevin (Alvin Liu ’18). By attending “Formosa,” the more than 120 audience members were essentially attending Ji and Liu’s wedding, and TSA E-board members functioned as the couple’s friends who organized the ceremony. TSA tied the theme together seamlessly.

To launch the night’s special event, TSA played a video that set the scene for the show, or wedding. Kevin and Katie had been dating for a long time and when sitting around the table at a family reunion, all of the older adults asked about marriage. One of the grandmothers asked “Who here is married yet?,” hoping that someone at the table had plans for marriage in the near future. However, nobody responded.

Both Katie’s and Kevin’s grandmothers, played by Ariel Lee ’18 and Kristin Hu ’17, thought Katie and Kevin should get married soon since they had been dating for four years. Their scheme commenced.

The video showed Katie’s grandma Skyping Katie to tell her that she is “sick.” Kevin’s grandma also calls Kevin and feigns sickness. Neither of the grandmas are ill. In actuality, they are impatient and want their grandchildren to finally tie the knot.

Kevin, who thinks his grandma’s health is declining, proposes to Katie, dropping the ring in the process, but nevertheless proposing. Katie accepts and the wedding planning and festivities began.

At the end of the video, each TSA E-board member reacted to receiving the wedding invite, and then their real names and E-board positions popped up on the screen. It was nice to put names to faces, and TSA’s computer and camera skills truly shined through the video. TSA clearly put a lot of effort into producing this short film. Plus, the video’s lighthearted and comical spirit set the evening off to a great start.

“I really liked how they incorporated both shows or performances and a skit/acting. I also really liked their video in the beginning … It was really creative and funny,” attendee Tamami Horioka ’19 said.

Ernest Ling ’17 opened the show with three songs that were all in Taiwanese. Although some audience members could not understand the lyrics, his pleasant singing voice was soft and smooth, and he was able to hit several high notes. The first song was about being an artist and person in Taiwan. He additionally sang a song about politics that was originally performed by the Fire Extinguishers. Ling explained that today’s political climate in the United States is similar to Taiwan’s political climate a few years ago when the government passed a predominantly unfavorable bill. People sat outside of the congressional building in protest. Some lived there for 30 days. Demonstrators sang this song throughout the protest.

“I think America needs a lot of organization,” Ling commented. He did not mean organization solely in the political sphere, but also organization in learning about other people’s cultures. Americans cannot relate to or work with other ethnic groups if they do not understand their cultures, Ling said. The entire audience seemed to be able to feel these raw emotions and could connect with the gist of the song regardless of if they understood the lyrics.

Ling’s final song was about being unable to get through something, about being stuck in a hard place for a while. He never failed to move the audience with his voice and the themes his songs encompassed. Ling sang with emotion, meaning and conviction.

It was hard to believe that Ling was just the opening act of the show. Two female dancers from Boston University’s Verge Dance Company followed Ling’s performance. The duo performed a Chinese folk dance routine in beautiful, vibrant costumes. The music was elegant and dramatic at the same time. The two dancers were constantly in sync and always graceful with their movements.

The Modern Dance brought a more uplifting and upbeat vibe into Levin Ballroom. Emily Wu ’18 choreographed a dance routine to songs such as “Work” by Rihanna and Drake and “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars, among others. TSA members of all genders performed with indescribable enthusiasm. The group’s positive, buzzing energy enlivened the entire room. Wu’s spectacular choreography had the crowd clapping, cheering and hollering in awe.

TSA handed out bubble tea after the Modern Dance, during the brief but much needed intermission. The boba was perfect for cooling down after such lively performances.

“Formosa” resumed with a traditional lion dance, performed by the Calvin Chin Martial Arts Academy. Two members remained under the lion costume while others beat drums off stage. The most exciting part of the dance was when the lion walked down the steps to where audience members sat. The lion strutted down the makeshift wedding aisle and weaved between each table, wagging its face very close to a few lucky audience members.

Next came another show stopper. Last year’s TSA president Frances Chang ’16 performed three songs, two in English and one in Taiwanese. She sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love” originally by Elvis Presley and “All I Ask” originally by Adele. Chang’s soft, but powerful and controlled voice enchanted the audience. It was hard to look away from the solo act.

Last but certainly not least, every TSA E-board member participated in the Dessert Dance. Austin Luor ’17 choreographed a routine to a song in Taiwanese that followed the “Yankee Doodle” beat. The song gets its name from its focus on shaved ice, a popular Taiwanese dessert.

Of course, “Formosa” could not be complete without free food. TSA served bento boxes from Mulan, a restaurant in Waltham. TSA also topped the tables with traditional Taiwanese snacks including assorted crackers, gummies, fruity jellies and wafers, which were devoured while people waited for the show to begin.

“Formosa” started at 7:15 p.m., 15 minutes late. Between songs, Ling explained that Taiwanese weddings always start late. It is customary for people to not be on time. If the wedding invitation says the ceremony begins at 3 p.m., wedding attendees show up at 4 p.m. If someone chooses to be on time, they will walk into a completely empty room.

TSA also created two photo booths, or backdrops. One was designed with a Western theme in mind and the other with a more traditional take on Taiwanese weddings. However, both were stunning and intricate. The happy couple paraded down the makeshift wedding aisle, which was illuminated with white lights. The newlyweds even strutted down the aisle in a cardboard car. Ji carried a small bouquet of flowers as well.

“I loved all the effort they put into a really cute theme and I really enjoyed the show,” Emily Hong ’19 said.

After more than four months of planning, TSA should most certainly be applauded for its effort. TSA E-board members started practicing dance routines and on-stage skits after winter break, holding rehearsals for the Modern Dance once a week. The board also began meeting every Sunday to go over the script, create decorations and film parts of the video.

“I learned the meaning of ‘Formosa’ and really saw how the E-board interacted. It was clear from the performances that they were a very close and fun group. I really enjoyed how multiple numbers interacted with the audience,” Emily Koleske ’19 said.

Ultimately, TSA hit the nail right on the head with the wedding theme. The entire evening was extremely well thought out and executed. TSA added their own sense of humor into the introduction video and the skits in between performances.

At the beginning of the show, TSA shared a short clip that explained the history behind the creation of Taiwan. “Ilha formosa,” shouted the Portuguese settlers who first found Taiwan in 1542. “Ilha formosa” translates to “beautiful island.” TSA strived to share the beauty of the island and the culture that unified this talented group of individuals. TSA undeniably achieved its goal and brought happiness to all who attended “Formosa” this school year.

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