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SPOTLIGHT: Ria S. Tobaccowala '10

By Catherine A Morris, Contributing Writer

Invariably vibrant and irresistibly energetic, Harvard South Asian Association’s annual performance, Ghungroo, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. With a new program comprised of traditional dances, musical pieces, and comedic skits, this immense effort features a cast of over a hundred students. SAA co-president Ria S. Tobaccowala ’10, who shares her position with Joseph G. Thumpasery ’10, is one of the members producing Ghungroo this year.

The Harvard Crimson: What are the SAA’s objectives this year for its anniversary performance?

Ria S. Tobaccowala: Our main objective this year is to have a very high quality show. Ghungroo has come a long way over the past 20 years. It was originally just a small production between a few friends. This year our cast is bigger than last year’s, and we are experimenting with new dance acts and musical performances.

THC: Are you going to commemorate Ghungroo’s 20th anniversary in any way?

RST: The show is going to be commemorated through its quality and presentation. We have also tried to make sure there is a large alumni presence this year and are holding a special reception for them. We are also planning to do a short slideshow presentation to showcase the show’s progress through the last 20 years.

THC: In Indian dance, are you free to invent your own choreography or do you follow an established pattern? What traditions are you drawing on in your dances? Are there any particular stories or histories that you are trying to tell?

RST: The aim of the performances is to showcase the rich, diverse and evolving culture of the subcontinent. Every year, we have a classical dance, Bhangra, Hindi film, and Raas piece. These four dances reflect the constant variables in the culture.

Classical Indian dance is one of the oldest forms of dance that has remained relatively true to its beginnings. Bhangra is a more modernized dance style that originates from the state of Punjab in Northern India. Over time the moves and music have inherited American popular music and culture, such as hip-hop. We also have fusion and modern pieces that combine different forms of dance with South Asian dance...and different regional dances to show the diversity of style across the subcontinent. A couple examples of these types of dances are Koli and Malayalee.

In terms of stories and histories, we aim to show that the dynamic culture of the subcontinent has constant elements but also adapts and acquires many other cultures and styles.

THC: How do you involve all kinds of dancers, from beginners to people who have been dancing for years, into the performances?

RST: The fact that Ghungroo is all-inclusive and has no audition allows everyone to join in and perform. Over time Ghungroo has built the reputation of being a very open, fun, and diverse show that allows every undergraduate who is interested in performing the opportunity to perform. To me, this is the most amazing quality of the show—its ability to attract and resonate with a diverse set of people.

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