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Culture X’s 20th anniversary show remains rooted in tradition

When I walked into Levin Ballroom minutes before 7 p.m. on April 13, I was welcomed to Culture X by the Farfali percussion ensemble’s lively dancing and drumming.

After the introduction, Culture X’s 20th anniversary show, “From Roots to Leaves, Grounded in our Histories,” began with the promotional video posted on the Facebook event page days prior. The projector screen rolled down, and the lights dimmed, with natural sunlight seeping through the windows. In the video made by Amanda Huang ’19, one of the Culture X co-chairs, Gabi Rivero ’20 was seen looking through pictures and old articles about Culture X in the Intercultural Center. She stopped at one particular group photo and ran with that idea to gather different performance groups. The video included short clips of performing groups in the style of a Polaroid picture.

At the end of the video, this year’s Culture X chair team, composed of Maurice Windley ’19, Brianna Brown ’19, Gabi Rivero ’20, Connie Cai ’22 and Imani Islam ’20, came onstage to introduce themselves and the show. With this year’s 20th anniversary benchmark, the chair team placed an especially strong interest in remembering history and those who had come before them. Windley emceed the event.

First on stage was Dean of Students Jamele Adams. Prior to giving one of his signature spoken-word poems, Adams announced that Poetic Justice, Brandeis’ slam poetry team, was ranked among the top 20 college slam teams in the country. He then invited Cary Weir Lytle ’98, the Associate Director of Employer Relations at the Hiatt Career Center, to the stage and introduced him as one of the founders of Culture X. Adams explained that the possibility of Culture X came up after a year and a half of racial tension on campus, and it was a vision for something that allows everyone to come together. Lytle said that even though he was one of the organizers of the first ever Culture X show, “this isn’t mine, it’s everyone’s.” The room applauded as Lytle left the stage, and Adams delivered a slam poem honoring immigrants from all backgrounds.

A series of dance groups followed Adams’ slam poetry. Afro Diamonds, a group of dancers from the Africano Cultural Center in Waltham, used their talents to perform a dance, choreographed by Bridget Kamanzi, which highlighted the beauty of Africa. The group was made up of dancers between ages five and 17; the dance was inclusive to all dancers of wide age range and incorporated various styles. Following Afro Diamonds, Brandeis Ballet Company performed a piece named “Elephant.” Inspired by animalistic movement, the group explored “fluidity and sharpness” through synchronized movements. XL, a pop-dance group took the stage next. Dressed in maroon, white and black, the group incorporated pop dances from various cultures.

Up next was guitarist Eli Kengmana ’19. Kengmana’s performance tied back to the show’s theme “from roots to leaves—grounded in our histories;” he played a single line that was repeated and made more complex throughout his performance, reflecting on his growth as a performer over the years. While the melody was mostly soft and gentle, each strum on his acoustic guitar was firm, interspersed with string plucking and hitting the body of the guitar, incorporating beat into melody.

Brandeis’ beloved Chak De! impressed the audience with their signature Bollywood Fusion dances. Their swift movements seamlessly combined classical Indian, Bollywood, Indian folk and Western dance forms. The next performer, Zhen Quan ’22, took on the stage for the first time in her Brandeis career. Dressed in a white dress that resembled a nightgown, she danced along to a Chinese song about dreams; her light, agile movements incorporated elements of traditional Chinese and contemporary dances.

Islam performed an original poem that talked about multiculturalism and diversity and how that related to representation at Brandeis. The poem concluded with a thank you to the ICC—the ICC showed Islam that she was more than a photo subject used in pamphlets for diversity purposes.

Kaos Kids wrapped up the first act. Although Kaos Kids is a “secular group” and not affiliated with a particular culture, they showed off their diversity and wanderlust in their dance. Taking their audience around the world to cities such as Mumbai and Paris from the comfort of their seats, they announced worldwide destinations and danced along to music in the style and language of the countries they stopped by.

The second act kicked off with two performances by the Toxic Majorette Dance Line—the first done under regular house lights due to a lights malfunction, and the second with the correct lighting. Their confident and bold moves in both performances, along with remarkable gymnastic stunts, left the room wanting more.

Another Culture X organizer, Connie Cai, took the stage. Cai has been playing the violin since she was four years old, and the hard work she has put into refining her craft over the years showed. Cai played her favorite sonata, the first adagio movement in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, beautifully; each bow was crisp but smooth. Following Cai, Platinum Step Team, amid fast-paced, in-sync clapping and stomping, performed a poem that embraced their group name, “Platinum.”

Up next was Kazuki, a band composed of Kazuki Mochimaru and students from the Japanese Students Association and Taiwanese Student Association. Kazuki combined vocals, guitar and piano to play “Lemon” by Yonezu Kenshi.

The remaining four performances were from different dance groups on campus. Premier hip-hop dance group WKD brought the audience back with hit songs from the 2000s. Recognizing that most people in the audience had been kids in the 2000s, the group added bubbles and stuck to children’s songs and well-known hit songs. The audience responded well to the music choice as they sang along and were especially elated when “Baby Shark” played from the speakers.

Up next was Sankofa. Meaning “go back and get it” in the Akan language of Ghana, West Africa, the word “sankofa” highlights the need for one to look back and collect their history in order to move forward. Accompanied by a voiceover, the movements of the three students embodied the fearlessness of women throughout the African diaspora. The penultimate performance was by Rebelle, an Afro-Carribean dance team that focuses on the aspect of community rather than a single country. Dressed in glow-in-the-dark neon clothing, the group coalesced their individual dance styles to form a greater community; the community aspect was evident in the way they interacted with each other in the dance.

The chair team assembled on stage once again, thanking all the people who helped make the show’s 20th anniversary a reality, and in turn, received accolades for their hard work. The group also thanked photographer Amanda Huang ’19 for her film and photography work.

The show concluded with a grand finale, choreographed by Brown and Islam. According to the program, this final performance was one of Brown’s personal dreams when planning this event. Brown segued into the performance, saying “I don’t think y’all are ready for this but whatever.” She was absolutely correct; the grand finale was nothing I imagined it to be and my favorite part of the show.

As Beyoncé’s “End of Time” came on, many performers reappeared, dressed in all black and waving flags from different countries, and started dancing in all parts of the room—on stage, in the back and in the aisles. The energy and passion the performers put in made up for recurring technical difficulties, in this particular act and throughout the show.

Culture X’s anniversary show took 20 years of history and wove it into something beautiful.

In addition to showcasing students’ talents, Culture X was a time when community members came to appreciate different cultures and unite as one diverse community. It was only appropriate that prospective students in Admissions’ CommUNITY program were also in the audience—if that didn’t show them what community looks like at Brandeis, I don’t know what will.

Editor’s note: Features Editor Polina Potochevska is a part of Brandeis Ballet Company and performed in Culture X.

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