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Hayek Spices Up Cultural Rhythms

30 student groups—from Mariachi to martial arts—impress “Frida” star, audience

William L. Jusino

The Asian American Dance Troupe elegantly blended Asian dance with beautifully mesmerizing leaps across stage at Cultural Rhythms.

CORRECTION APPENDED

On February 25, 2006, the Harvard community was treated to the 21st annual Cultural Rhythms Show. With over 30 student groups performing in two different shows (Hayek was only present at the first), Sanders Theatre was transformed into a cultural medley that ranged from traditional Korean dancing to Latin hip-hop.

Cultural Rhythms is presented by the Harvard Foundation, a group spearheaded by Professor S. Allen Counter to “improve intercultural understanding and fellowship among Harvard students and faculty.”

Hayek, an actress who has starred in “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” and “Frida” (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award), was this year’s honoree. Donning rhinestone-studded jeans and a Harvard baseball cap, she was the picture of a gracious, humorous, and lovely host.

The first group to perform was the Mariachi Veritas, a group that met Hayek at Logan Airport upon her arrival. Dressed in traditional mariachi attire, the students were greeted with deafening applause after their number that included guitars and pitch-perfect vocals.

Next to perform was the Pan African Drum and Dance Troupe, a fairly new student group that focuses on traditional African dance. The troupe performed a “Didadi” dance, which originated from Mali. Generating an infectious amount of enthusiasm around Sanders, the troupe, with their rhythmic dancing and African chanting, were genuinely impressive. With smiles plastered on their faces, they clapped and stomped amidst audience cheers.

Using multi-colored ribbons, The Asian American Dance Troupe elegantly blended Asian dance with beautifully mesmerizing leaps across the stage. Adorning themselves with the ribbons and pirouetting, this was no ordinary ribbon-dancing. In beautiful Asian garments, the dancers were the picture of grace and Hayek was quite captivated saying, “That was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.” Judging by the reaction from the audience, it appeared to be a mutual feeling around Sanders.

Closing out the first half of the show was the perennial student-favorite Kuumba, who sang traditional African gospel. With over 150 students performing in the piece, Kuumba nearly shook the walls of Sanders with their perfect singing that was superbly harmonious.

As the second half of the performance began (after Hayek received her award), Sangeet took the stage. With gentle strums of a mandolin and other instruments, this group of five students impressed Hayek so much that she demanded a CD.

Gumboots performed an energetic Gumboot dance, which dramatizes the working lives of miners in South Africa’s oppressive apartheid government. Dressed in overalls and boots, the dancers were incredibly moving as they portrayed the plight of Black South Africa.

Perhaps the most exhilarating physical spectacle of the show was the Wushu Club, who could give Jacke Chan a run for his “Rush Hour” money. Their “Matrix”-like jumping and kicking seemed to defy gravity. As the performers managed to jump nearly three feet in the air, Hayek felt compelled to offer them a Hollywood contract. “If I ever need marshal arts training for a role, I know who to call,” she said.

With a wide array of students performing both traditional and contemporary Latino dance, Candela Hip Hop was a likely candidate for most “pumped-up.” While the hip-hop troupe hoofed it to Ciara’s “One, Two Step,” their traditional component danced to a spicy salsa beat.

Finally, the last act was Harvard Bhangra, who performed a folk dance originating from Punjab in India. This dance was combined with modern hip-hop (including Snoop Dogg and the Notorious B.I.G.) which created an adrenaline-fueled dance that involved human pyramids that would make a competition cheerleading squad jealous.

Cultural Rhythms 2006 was a hands-down success. After all, it is not often that Sanders Theatre, the home to large lectures, becomes a temporary showcase for such a diverse array of student cultural groups.
 
“I’ve never seen so many dancers with glasses,” said Salma Hayek, the 2006 “Artist of the Year” and host of Cultural Rhythms. Harvard students may be all may be nerds at heart, but for one weekend out of the year they celebrate cultural diversity on campus.


—Staff writer Jessica C. Coggins can be reached at jcoggin@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTIONS:

The print edition of this review incorrectly stated that the group Candela Hip Hop performed to Ciara's "One, Two Step." In fact, it was the Philippine Dance Troupe that performed to this song.

The print edition also stated that Harvard Bhangra incorporated music by Snoop Dogg and the Notorious B.I.G. into their act. In fact, the music was by DMX and 50 Cent.