A spectacular night: the South Asian Students Association’s 2016 culture show

By BETHANY HUANG
Staff Writer

The curtain lifted to reveal not the first act, but Vijay Parameswaran, Yashasvi Chandrabhatta and Tejas Peruvemba, Shaam Shaandaar’s emcees — all three of them. “Sorry for the delay,” they said. “We’re on Indian Standard Time. We’re always late.”

The theme of this year’s culture show was Shaam Shaandaar, which translates into spectacular night. It was presented by the South Asian Students Associations (SASA) of University High School (UHS), Irvine High School (IHS) and Woodbridge High School (WHS) and the Indian Student Association at Beckman High School (BHS). The culture show, which aims to showcase South Asian students, has been an ongoing tradition since its first show in 2007. Varsha Kumar, a BHS senior, said, “I’m proud to say that my very own cousin, Sonia Gupta, was able to put together that show and it has continued ever since. It is a tradition that I’m so lucky to be a part of.”

A board made up of students from each participating school started organizing the culture show since the summer. Each member had a specific job, including decorating, catering, ticketing, publicity, choreographing and teaching the dances.

Aishee Das (Sr.) has performed in the culture show for three years and been a board member for two. She worked with Shradha Mididaddi (Sr.), co-director and choreographer, to book a venue and organize the event. Das said, “It’s easy to assume that the show is easy to plan because it is just a collection of dances and songs being sung, but there are so many things, little or big, that we need to work out behind the scenes to run a flawless show.”

Mididaddi emphasized how important having a dedicated work ethic was to planning the show. She said, “We [the culture show board] learned so much about prioritizing, planning and communicating by organizing the show that I just hope I’ll get a chance like this again in the future so I can fix my mistakes and present an even better show. She also encourages SASA members to participate in the culture show because it’s a “very unique opportunity and such a huge learning experience.”

Even UHS students who are not SASA members performed in the show. Irina Rochon (Sr.), who performed for the first time this year as a non-SASA member, found out about the culture show through a friend. She said, “It’s fun to work on something with friends and seeing it all come together is really great. It was kind of hard for me to learn all of the moves but that was half the fun.” Another non-SASA member, Libby Sun (Sr.), also performed. She said, “I love dancing, but I’ve only learned traditional dance — ballet, lyrical, jazz, tap — so it was awesome to be able to learn another dance style that is unique to the Indian culture.”

This year the show was hosted by UHS and featured not only the expected Indian group dances but also musicians, singers, and a fashion show. The show opened with Mididaddi, who performed a Bharatanatyam solo dance called Saraswati Pushpanjali, a lively performance made even more joyful by Mididaddi’s passionate facial expressions.

WHS performed the first group dance to a medley of Bollywood songs. The audience was delighted by the dynamic the dance created between boys and girls. At one point during the dance, the guys pretended to let the girls fall to the floor. The audience cheered as the girls looked up at the guys in fake indignation.

Vignesh Iyer (Jr.) was the first and one of the only singers of the night. For his first performance, he sang “Laal Ishq,” a beautiful, almost haunting song that complemented Iyer’s calm, soothing vocals. Iyer kept to the beat of the song by snapping, adding an acoustic feel.

His second performance was a duet to “Samjhawan” with Vani Dewan (Jr.). Iyer’s and Dewan’s voices complemented each other beautifully, but each singer also stood out on their own; some parts were sung in unison and others sung as solos.

The acoustic spirit was intensified in the next act, a percussion number by tabla player Hridhay Karthikeyan. Karthikeyan created a complicated, seemingly impossible-to-follow rhythm by tapping his fingers, slamming his palm and shaking his head. He even closed his eyes during parts of his lengthy performance — not looking, only sensing — which made his performance all the more impressive.

Nisha Davankar and Vivek Abraham’s dance was equally impressive. Their energetic and fast-paced routine was captivating: Abraham surprised Davankar and the audience by pulling a rose out of his pocket then holding it between his teeth, swinging Davankar around the stage like a figure skater and swinging her over his shoulder before dipping her down to the ground. Despite being twirled and tossed and slung, Davankar’s energy did not wane. Neither did Abraham’s, although he had been the one doing all the twirling and tossing and slinging. They were as enthusiastic as ever, and their enthusiasm fueled the audience, ending the first part of the show with a bang.

“Here are all the names of people in the fashion show,” one of the emcees said, dropping a scroll of names that turned out to be roll of paper towels. “India really is overpopulated when you think about it.” With that, a fashion show featuring all SASA members opened the second half of the show.

The fashion show showcased personalities as well as clothes. Once they reached the edge of the stage, the models struck a variety of poses from the dab, whip and nae nae to routines involving a boy producing a flower for the girl he walked down the stage with.

When the emcees returned to announce the next act with more of their antics, a performer entered the stage to give the emcees and the audience a message. It seemed that some of the dancers were in multiple performances and needed more time to change, stalling the show. The emcees enthusiastically decided to fill the time by freestyle rapping. One emcee led the audience in a clap, another stomped a beat and the third created a spontaneous rap.

The show continued when a group of girls representing IHS entered the stage — and soon after, a group of boys who jumped out of the wings, surprising the audience. While the boys and girls shone as a collective group, they also delivered brilliant performances in trios. Three boys danced onstage to join three girls, who pretended to swoon once they saw the boys. Moments like these made this cheerful and energetic dance well worth the wait.

“Bollywood Through the Decades,” choreographed by Mididaddi and Kumar, was the final performance of the night and involved the entire Culture Show board. At the end of their performance, the dancers ran offstage and into the audience, continuing the show there and even pulling some spectators up to dance with them.

“When we heard the cheers and excitement in the audience, I was so immensely proud of everyone who helped put on this show,” Mididaddi said. “We all put in a lot of effort, and even if we had our stressful crazy late nights, we stuck together and pulled through. In the end, we all knew that this show was worth our blood, sweat and tears.”

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