It’s easy to overlook the logistics which go into artistic performances and competitions when one reclines back in their chair and takes in the event with awe. Performers need to be lined up, lights and projections need to sync up perfectly with the music, trophies and awards need to not cause any Steve Harvey-esque problems and be awarded to the correct teams.
I was amazed students could produce such a well-rounded, impressive event by themselves while watching Aa Dehken Zara’s competition Saturday night at the Overture Center.
The night featured five traditional bhangra teams and eight fusion dance teams competing for points to secure a bid to Bollywood America nationals later this year in Atlanta.
Bhangra, formed from traditional Punjabi dance styles, is far from how my schema for traditional dancing is set. High energy routines combining hip hop music, a percussive sliding instrument called a sapp and elaborate dances create a stunning display of human art. Colorful traditional costumes, each uniquely crafted for the particular bhangra teams, aided in creating vivid stage pictures throughout the evening.
The fusion dance teams craft styles which are a bit harder to define. While borrowing elements from traditional dance styles, each team crafted its own genre-mixing routine based on the strengths of its members. Many dancers on these teams brought prior training in ballet, lyrical, Bollywood, hip hop and other dance styles to add diversity in their show’s choreography.
For those who have not had a chance to view a fusion dance set, I can best describe it as a standard Humorology-style lip sync mixed with a higher level of dance techniques and a Bollywood flair. Each group devised a storyline for their routine based off a piece of pop culture. Audiences enjoyed retellings of “Robin Hood,” “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” and “Coco” among others.
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Each set began with a video introduction to the storyline which set up the lead dancers and the general vibe for each group’s performance. Some groups, like New York University’s NASHA, took a more interpretive approach to storytelling and included no dialogue. Others like WashU Chaahat utilized elaborate sets and highly edited videos to capture their tale.
Such a high level of talent was displayed by all groups in attendance, I could not imagine having to judge which group performed the best. Everyone displayed a high level of stamina throughout the non-stop sets while still emotionally conveying the story through their choreography.
Capping off the night’s entertainment, University of Wisconsin hosts from the Indian Graduate Student Association and Wisconsin Surma Dance Team performed various sets as the judges tabulated the night’s results. IGSA’s first performance was especially interesting. A violinist took the stage and played in the darkness to a contemporary backing track, inherently denoting the fusion of styles which was to come. One dancer, dressed in a modern jacket, began to dance in a hip hop style, followed by a lyrical dancer and closing with a traditional dancer. Relating to the fusion witnessed earlier by the competitive dance teams, this performance encapsulated each thread that combined to create these entertaining performances.
Despite technical glitches at the top of their set, Wisconsin Surma’s “Mulan” story was well-crafted and ready for their own competitions later in the season. IGSA also delivered a short fusion routine mostly mixed to a Bollywood style cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”
The event ran quite smoothly and even ended before a predicted 10 p.m. end time, which is always welcome for weary student viewers. Spartan Bhangra of Case Western Reserve University and Boiler Bhangra of Purdue University took home first and second place in the traditional bhangra category, respectively. Minnesota Junoon pleased many fans who made the short trip across state lines when it earned first place in the fusion category with its “Home Alone” routine. Northwestern Deeva, an all-female group, and all-male newcomers Detroit Kohinoor from Wayne State University received second and third prize respectively.