UPDATED: March 18, 2017 at 10:13 a.m.
The diversity and talent of the College was on full display Saturday evening at the Harvard Foundation’s 32nd Cultural Rhythms show. The show—part of a whole week of dialogue around race, ethnicity, and gender—featured many of Harvard’s cultural performance groups. Ranging from Harvard Taekwando to a full mariachi band, every act was distinctly representative of a particular form of artistic expression. Taken in total, Cultural Rhythms was a medley of traditional (and untraditional) performances from around the world.
Of course, the true star of Cultural Rhythms was its guest of honor: actress Viola Davis. Having won an Oscar less than a week before, she became the first black person to win an Emmy, a Tony, and an Oscar. She was in Sanders Theatre to receive the Harvard Foundation’s 2017 Artist of the Year Award. After receiving the award, Davis gave a speech about art as a means of spreading a message and changing minds. Davis said that acting for her means telling the stories of people that might not otherwise get heard. “I want people to be seen,” she said. “I want them to feel less alone.”
The performances lived up to Davis’ conception of art. Starting with Ballet Folklorico, a traditional Mexican dance group, and ending with the Kuumba Singers every act did an incredible job of representing their cultures and putting on an entertaining show. Particularly deserving of mention are the Harvard Breakers, a group of skilled breakdancers; the Asian American Dance Troupe, whose members gave a powerful and acrobatic display; Harvard Mariachi, impressive for both their exuberance and their ability; and of course the aforementioned Kuumba Singers. However, every group was so unique and talented that it’s nearly impossible to pick favorites.
These cultural performances weren’t the only fun thing on stage that evening, as the hosts nearly stole the show. Jonathan S. Roberts ’17 and Karen Chee ’17 were at once gracious and hilarious, with great quips and gags. In an especially memorable moment, after the Breakers performed, Roberts and Chee took turns giving the leaders of the dance troupe their numbers. Chee even held up a sign with her real number written on it, a move she lightheartedly said she regretted even while doing it. If the Oscars are still looking for a host for next year, they could do much worse than Chee and Roberts.
The grand finale of the evening saw all the leaders of the groups come out onstage and dance together to the Jackson 5 Classic “ABC.” Each pair of performers put their own unique spin on the song. Here, the dancers from the Hellenic Society stepped and dipped, while there, Bhangra members leapt and stomped. None of the responses were better than any of the others, and all deserved to be celebrated. Cultural Rhythms more than succeeded in celebrating them.