Variety Show Packs Sanders

Blair Underwood hosts popular Cultural Rhythms celebration

Cultural Rhythms
Lauren S. Hirshon

University President LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS and Dean of the College HARRY R. LEWIS '68 present host BLAIR UNDERWOOD with a plaque at last Saturday's Cultural Rhythms.

Twirling umbrellas, Chinese yo-yos, ‘Bhangra’ cries and guest host Blair Underwood were featured before a packed Sanders Theater Saturday in the 17th annual Cultural Rhythms show.

While Underwood—who was presented with the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations Artist of the Year Award—hosted the show with much panache, Harvard’s admistrators did not fare as well on stage.

Weeks after a controversy involving the Afro-American studies department led University President Lawrence H. Summers to issue a statement affirming his support for diversity, Summers reiterated his commitment to diversity at Saturday’s show—to a luke-warm response.

While on stage, Summers said he thinks diversity, including shows like Cultural Rhythms, make Harvard “a better place.”

But some students and observers said they were unimpressed by his appearance at the event.

“I thought he seemed uncomfortable speaking about something of that nature,” said Justin H. Alexander ’03, treasurer of the Black Men’s Forum.

A casually dressed Summers was not the only administrator whose stage presence was arguably less than smooth.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 described Underwood as “a humanitarian, an actor and a very good-looking guy,” then addressed him as “Brian Underwood”—a mistake that drew laughs and snickers from the crowd.

But Underwood eased the tension over Lewis’ slip, revealing that he has also been called “Blair Underwear.”

“[Underwood] was very nice about it,” Lewis wrote in an e-mail.

“And Dr. [S. Allen] Counter [the director of the Foundation] kindly bailed me out too—recalling that he had introduced Halle Berry as ‘Hairy Belly’!”

Underwood, formerly of TV’s “L.A. Law,” was selected in 2000 by People Magazine as one of the world’s 50 most beautiful people. He will star opposite Julia Roberts in an upcoming movie entitled Full Frontal—an announcement that drew many laughs from the audience.

“You guys have dirty minds,” Underwood joked.

The event at Sanders Theater showcased performances by a total of 25 student cultural groups spread over two shows, with the first—sold-out well in advance—hosted by Underwood.

Participants included the Asian-American Dance Troupe, Fuerza Latina and Phillipine Forum.

Mindy M. Chen ’02, who performed as part of the Spoken Word Society, described her performance as a “release.”

“The spoken word represents the new voice,” she said. “I feel so honored and I’m glad we’re being represented here.”

Most partipicants wore green armbands as a symbol of support for the initiative to make the Committee on Ethnic Studies a certificate-granting program.

Cultural Rhythms participants wore the armbands in 1999 and 2000 as well, according to Ethan Y. Yeh ’03, who is the secretary of the Foundation’s Student Advisory Committee.

Yeh said that last year students had lacked time to organize the distribution of armbands and that they felt less of a need to be “visible” than they did this year.

Though several performers affirmed their groups’ support for ethnic studies verbally as well as symbolically, Underwood did not mention the issue during the show.

Yeh said students did not approach Underwood to seek his support on the ethnic studies issue. Matt Damon, Class of 1992, signed a petition in support of ethnic studies when he came to Harvard to host the show in 2000.

Underwood did make frequent reference to the quality and diversity of the student acts.

“To watch all the Kuumba singers—white, black, Asian and everything in between—was very moving for me,” he said.

Kanoe M. Lum ’05, who danced with Holoimua O Hawai’i, said she was also excited to be involved with the show.

“It was simply mind-boggling to see the amount of diversity this college has, and celebrates,” Lum said.

Saturday was the first time in Cultural Rhythms’ history that the second show (which is free for students) was also held in Sanders Theater. Both shows were sold out.

The first show was followed by a food festival in the Science Center, with various student groups serving food representative of their cultures.

Counter called the festivities “a good get-together for the Harvard family” and a “special” day for the College.

—Staff writer Ravi Agrawal can be reached at agrawal@fas.harvard.edu.