Published March 9, 2015
Harman Brar was wrapped head to toe in bright purple-and-white robes, a purple turban coiled around his left ear and his right sporting a large, golden disc. Laughing and joking with a few of his high school buddies, he seemed relaxed for being minutes away from taking the stage at his first International Fiesta.
“I’m pretty excited,” he said casually. Brar, a Williamsville native, may be a freshman, but it wasn’t his first rodeo. As a member of both the Indian Student Association and the UB Bhangra team, he has performed the traditional Punjabi folk dance before and feels at home wearing the turban, long tunic and flowing pants called a vardi.
The annual International Fiesta talent competition featuring UB’s international student clubs is one of the university’s most popular student-run events. The sold-out show on March 7 packed the Center for the Arts Mainstage theater with friends, family and classmates for nearly three hours of thrilling dance and music that ran the gamut from the UB Glee club’s national anthem to traditional folk music, Bollywood beats and Asian hip-hop.
Fifteen groups performed, five of which competed for first, second and third-place trophies that went to the Latin American Student Association (LASA), Indian Student Association (ISA) and Malaysian Student Association (MASA), respectively.
The International Council chose this year’s theme, “The Great Journey,” to highlight the ongoing struggle of immigrants throughout the world, said Tazrin Hossain, council coordinator for the undergraduate Student Association, the fiesta’s sponsor.
“We may come from different places, but our paths cross,” Hossain told the audience, adding that international clubs help give students a “home away from home” at UB, well-known around the world for its campus diversity.
A panel of five judges timed each performance, which must run under eight minutes. “It’s simply amazing what these students can do — each year they just get better and better,” said Mark Sorel, SA administrative director and long-time fiesta judge. Clubs scored points for how well they conveyed the theme, represented their cultures and brought a sense of energy to the evening.
And boy, did they all bring it.
Egged on by the masters of ceremonies — alumnus Greg Bellanton and seniors Allen Liu and Corinne Zee — the Chinese SA opened with dazzling pink ribbons, followed by the Indian SA’s Bollywood-sized production number that drove the crowd into a frenzy with its complex theatrical portrayal of two lovers who fight against the odds to be together.
Just before intermission, the fiesta’s eventual champion, LASA, brought down the house with its epic interpretation of the Latin-American cultural diaspora. The “dances born from the coasts of South America,” the Caribbean and the streets of New York showed a near-professional range of choreography, costume and musical scores, as well as a palpable sense, as they describe it, that “some journeys are physical, some are internal … this is the story as old as America itself.”
The bigger clubs wowed the crowd with intricate plots and costumes, but even the smaller teams impressed. The Caribbean SA had just as much grit, dancing passionately within themes of fighting oppression and rising to prosperity. The Korean Folk Arts Club didn’t dance at all, but sat onstage and drummed with military precision, building to the crash of a gong. On the opposite end of Korea’s musical spectrum, the Korean American SA’s “k-pop” group slithered out in leggings, sneakers and baseball caps, showing off modern-day precision with a fun, hip-hop attitude.
The Japanese-American club was the surprise dark horse. Its magical “journey” was interspersed with sword fighting as the central character searched the “Japanese Underground” for his lost love. The crowd screamed when he slumped lifeless onto his dead beloved, as the curtain came down.
During ISA’s performance, which earned the club second place, Brar and his fellow dancers smiled, whirled and stamped their feet. Joyful and proudly at ease, they took the same journey of personal and cultural celebration so many others have made around the world, one step at a time.