'Rhythms' Full of Unified Harmony

Filled to capacity, Sanders Theatre was the place to be on Saturday afternoon for much of the Harvard community. The 22nd installment of “Cultural Rhythms,” an annual showcase celebrating Harvard’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity, brought a series of delightful music and dance sequences, performed by 15 undergraduate cultural organizations, to the venue.

“I feel better than everyone who is going to the Academy Awards tomorrow,” Artist of the Year Laurence Fishburne bellowed out to open the afternoon’s festivities in the afternoon performance of the two-part show.

As the celebrity host, Fishburne infused the show with a sense of light humor and entertainment, beginning when he first knocked over his throne as theater lights went down. But as Fishburne reminded the audience many times, “The show must press on!”

“Press on” it did. The show—directed by Simi Bhat ’08 and Layusa Isa-Odidi ’09—began with acts strongly rooted in tradition, such as Irish music and dance troupe Ceolta Gael, but these pieces soon gave way to more free-flowing performances like the popping and locking motions of the battling Harvard Breakers breakdancing group. From the “Kung Fu Hustle”-style performance of the Harvard Wushu Club as they displayed martial arts skills to the billowing skirts of dancers in Ballet Folklórico de Aztlán, all the acts displayed an abundance of cultural diversity.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was the Filipino Tinikling piece. The group injected a strong burst of energy into “Cultural Rhythms” with their clashing ten-foot-long bamboo sticks, which some dancers beat against the stage while others jumped over and around them in moves reminiscent of schoolyard jump roping. The troupe proved versatile as well: As the beat of “Chicken Noodle Soup” blasted through the speakers, the dancers dropped their poles and put on sunglasses to begin a hip hop-inspired number.

As the only group to represent Native American culture, the Harvard Intertribal Indian Dance Troupe beautifully showcased their heritage through song and dance. The dancers displayed great skill in ballet, jazz, and pow-wow styles, but the performance was equally eye-catching for its brightly colored costumes, which included silk shirts as well as embroidered shawls emblazoned with sequins.

Next came the Kuumba Choir, one of the largest and most dynamic multicultural organizations on campus. With over 100 members, the singers entered Sanders from side stage doors, filing inside one by one in a grand procession. Kuumba’s three pieces filled Sanders Theatre with soulful melodies and left a lasting impression.

The Harvard Spoken Word Society’s performance voiced what the other pieces of the show could only convey indirectly through dance or music. Lucerito L. Ortiz ’10 and José G. Olivarez ’10 embodied the central theme of “Cultural Rhythms” through their portrayal of critical social issues that have a wide-ranging affect on the entire student body.

As 2007 Artist of the Year, Fishburne’s address to the audience emphasized the appreciation of cultural diversity as the focus of the show.

“This cultural festival really is one of the most beautiful celebrations of the human family I have seen in a long time,” Fishburne said. The great variety of the acts–as well as their members’ diversity–demonstrated just how much Harvard has achieved in creating such a family.

The closing piece resonated with Fishburne’s comments by including performers from all the organizations involved in “Cultural Rhythms.” With mariachi music playing in the background, members of Folklórico de Aztlán, Candela Salsa, and many others integrated salsa, martial arts, Tinikling, and break dancing into one flawless, combined routine.