On the Radar

Ghungroo 2005: A Cultural Celebration

Performances with tickets still available are Thursday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 5 at 2 p.m. Agassiz Theater. Tickets $8 and available through Harvard Box Office.

South Asian culture, according to Ghungroo choreographer and South Asian Association culture chair Manisha Munshi ’06, is on the rise.

“South Asian culture is expanding so rapidly, and especially on college campuses, and especially at a place like Harvard,” Munshi said. “Our parents’ generation came over here, and most of us are second generation: it’s especially easy for us to become interested in these traditional forms of expression.”

A look at the Ghungroo cast, performing this weekend in Agassiz Theater, reveals that many of the dancers and performers are not of South Asian heritage at all. “One of the great things about Ghungroo is that no one has to audition, know how to dance, or be South Asian. People just show up, and more do every year,” Munshi said.

Munshi is one of the choreographers, and has a background of classical training in South Asian dance. Her piece, “Hindi Film Dance: A Bollywood Journey” is an example of the ten dance performances in the show, which cover a broad range of dances from South Asia (and the South Asian diaspora,) from the Punjabi Bhangra style, to Chutney-Soca, which reflects Indian immigration into the West Indies, to fusion between modern and traditional forms. This is the first year that Nepali dance is included under the Ghungroo umbrella, and producers are proud that the repertoire for the annual performance continues to broaden. In addition to the dance pieces, this year’s show features seven musicals acts, poetry reading, and a two-part skit.

Short interstitial bits complete the action, and show the sense of humor that accompanies the performance: in the first, a waiter asks customers whether they want the meat or vegetarian options, and a man with a thick Indian accent informs him: “I would like a wedgie, and my wife also would like a wedgie.” In another, a Simon Cowell-modeled judge evaluates three comedians performing to become “Indian Idol.” In the end, the one who would be winner is dismissed: “Sorry, you’re only half.”

The dancers and musicians truly light up the Agassiz stage. Even performing in front of a beautifully-constructed dull orange set of columns and arabesque arches and on a painted stage with a central rose, the bright colors of the participants’ shimmering costumes stand out, accompanied by their incredible dexterity: at one point during the Bhangra dance a dancer lifts another by his feet, tucking his knees over his shoulders, whirling him and causing him to fly out like an amusement park ride. The musical acts share a similar intensity, such as the three-on-three drum and voice battle known as “tukda” that concludes the act by the tabla ensemble.

The cast of performers share as remarkable a fusion as the styles they bring together, and director Bianca Mahmood ’06 cites this as Ghungroo’s biggest strength.

“The most rewarding this is working with these people, and bringing so many people together in a community,” Mahmood said. “The Saturday night show, our parents and alumni performance, has been sold out for two weeks. What the audience feels in the energy of the show is this investment in the community.” It is this energy, one may surmise, that draws so many more people each year.

--Christopher A. Kukstis

Three Films by Im Kwon Taek

Friday, March 04, 2005. Chunhyang (South Korea, 2002). 7 p.m., Harvard Film Archive. Tickets $12; students and seniors, $10. Advance tickets available Harvard Box Office, (617) 496-2222.

Saturday, March 5. Chihwaseon (South Korea, 2000). 7 p.m., Harvard Film Archive. Tickets $12; students and seniors, $10. Advance tickets at The Harvard Box Office, (617) 496-2222.

Monday, March 7. Sopyonje (South Korea, 1993). 7 p.m., Harvard Film Archive. Tickets $8; students and seniors, $6. Tickets at Harvard Film Archive.

Im Kwon Taek is a director who, without overstatement, has dominated the Korean film industry. The extent of Im’s influence and the range of subjects he has treated—not to mention his prolificacy, as he nears his hundredth film—are simply extraordinary. The first American scholarly work on Korean film proposed as its title a simple apposition: Im Kwon Taek: the Making of a Korean National Cinema. Domestic ticket sales confirm what Kyung Hyun Kim, the UCLA professor who wrote the book in question, suggests: that the significance of Im’s work in South Korea is not to be underestimated.