Monday, April 26, 2010

Festival of India 2010: Talent Show

This year’s Festival of India talent show, aptly titled the Essence of India, was held at the grand Riverbend Auditorium. Although the location was a forty minute drive from campus, the Auditorium had a large seating capacity and good acoustic support. ISA and Delta Epsilon Psi did a commendable job of organizing buses to and from the location.
The Essence of India Talent Show offered $5000 as prize money, the largest South Asian Talent Show prize money ever given. This year’s show had teams competing from Ohio, New York, and Texas. Many of the teams had competed in ISA’s Taal Talent Show held in early April.
Unsurprisingly, the talent show started late. Adhering to ‘Indian Standard Time,’ the show began nearly thirty minutes behind schedule. However, the frustrating wait did not diminish the quality of talent that would follow.
The show began with the national anthems of India and the United States. After the anthems, the audience was introduced to the emcees for the evening, Gopi Patel and Alykhan Rehmatullah. Both emcees did a stellar job of introducing teams and keeping the audience amused.
The first group to perform was UT’s Hum a Capella. Hum a Capella gave a laudable singing performance with a fusion of Hindi songs such as Ishq Bina, Ghanana Ghanana, and Tu Jaane Naa. Their performance was marked by great facial expressions and a delightful mix of dance and song. They concluded with a powerful rendition of the Circle of Life by Sheryl Abraham.
The next act was the dance group, Dhadkan, from Houston, TX. The group began its performance with the song O… Saya, incorporating the styles of Bharatnatyam and Bhangra. Although Dhadkan was vibrant, they lacked synchronization and coordination. The women in the group appeared to be better performers than the men. On the whole, Dhadkan gave a somewhat lackluster performance.
Dhadkan was followed by UT’s Saaya. In line with their solid act at Taal, Saaya once again did a marvelous job. The introductory video, consisting of a creatively crafted rap song, set the tone for a splendid performance. Their act consisted of a unique amalgamation of Bhangra, hip hop, Kathak, and Bharatnatyam. I was mesmerized by their colorful blend of costumes, great timing, and brilliant coordination. Integrating four distinct styles of dance into a single performance is indubitably difficult, but Saaya managed to pull off a seamless performance.
Following Saaya was the next dance group, Core of Dallas, hailing from Dallas, TX. The group began with an acrobatic performance with dancers popping out of a jack-in-the-box (this needs hyphens) contraption. The group was amazing in its use of props and gave an awesome exhibition of Western hip hop dance. Although they presented a visual spectacle and gave a well-choreographed performance, apart from some of the music, their act had little to do with India or any of its essence.
The next dance group, UT’s Texas Raas, winners of the Taal talent show, once again brought their A game. The group had colorful costumes consisting of ghagra cholis1 and dhotis2 overlaid with fluorescent stripes. I expected a repeat of their performance at Taal, but I was pleasantly surprised by their original incorporation of glow-in-the dark bangles and flashing dandiyas. The group set the stage alight with their enthusiasm and passion.
Texas Raas was followed by Houston-based Infused Performing Arts dance group. The group certainly lived up to its name and gave an outstanding performance consisting of Kathak and Bhangra dance styles. In addition to dance, the group also had a Tabla player, which made for a refreshing change. The group’s performance was unlike that of its predecessors since it revolved around a central story. I was impressed by their color scheme, coordination, and appropriately chosen music.
After a brief intermission of ten minutes, the next group to perform was the percussion-based Dhoom, from UT. There is no doubt as to why the group calls itself Dhoom; their performance was nothing short of an explosion. Following their amusing and unique introduction video, the group captivated the audience with their fast-paced drum rolls and self-deprecating but well done attempts at dance. In addition to their glow-in-the-dark masked props at Taal, the group wore sound-responsive shirts which stayed in tow to their amazing beat. The group gave a terrific performance and clearly got the loudest response from the crowd. If ever there was an epitome of coordination and perfect synchronization, it would be Dhoom.
Dhoom was followed by the second Dandiya Raas team of the night, Texas A&M’s Wreckin’ Raas. The group made good use of colorful costumes and had consistent coordination throughout their performance. For a team in its first year, Wrecking Raas did a great job. However, in comparison to Texas Raas, the team fell several yards short. I found their performance to be good, but not impressive.
The next performance was by UT’s Nach Baliye dance group. The act was a repeat of its second-place winning performance at Taal. The group managed to wow the audience with its spectacularly choreographed Bollywood fusion dance.  The group had an entertaining story-driven mix of various popular Hindi songs. As always, Nach Baliye gave an exuberant and highly-entertaining performance, well appreciated by the audience.
Following Nach Baliye was a team from Stony Brook University, New York, SBU Thillana. SBU Thillana began its performance with a seriously themed video about mankind destroying nature and pushing it to a point of no return. They managed to blend the theme of nature consistently throughout their dance performance, offering a welcome change from trite plots.  The group had a well-coordinated mix of Western and Indian music. I was extremely impressed by their choice of music and it made me wonder whether they had chosen their music or their theme first. Despite their seemingly flawless performance, the group had a placid ending.  This rather dull conclusion may have put off the judges and crowd.
The penultimate performance of the night was by Texas Mohini. An all girl group from UT, Mohini combines hip hop and classical dance. Although I had seen their act at Taal, I was still held spellbound by Mohini’s scintillating performance. Mohini managed to live up to its well-earned reputation as a nationally competing dance team. Their dance was themed around the aspirations of individual team members (“When I grow up….”). Mohini had a subtle, yet suitable choice of costumes, appropriate to the theme and music.  Their performance, as a whole, was fast, captivating, and dazzling.
The final performance of the night was by OSU Genesis, a hip hop and Bhangra dance team from Ohio State University. Amusingly, the emcees introduced Genesis with a video of the Longhorns scoring a touch-down against the OSU football team. Genesis started off strongly and continued to entertain the crowd throughout its performance. They provided a stunning display of acrobatic maneuvers, complex hip-hop moves, and entertaining Bhangra. The group managed to win the audience’s approval by including a Texas vs. OSU themed dance into their performance. Their brilliant show was symbolic of a spectacular night and a fitting end to a thoroughly entertaining line-up.
I had picked my personal favorites for the night: Dhoom, Saaya, and Hum a Capella. As it turns out, my thoughts concurred with the judges. Third place went to Hum a Capella, winning a prize money of $500. The runners up were OSU Genesis, winning $1500. Dhoom, the crowd favorite, won first place, with a prize money of $3000.
In all, the event was a great success. Despite a delayed start, Delta Epsilon Psi and the Indian Students Association did a praiseworthy job of organizing such a grand event. Their efforts culminated in a widely-appreciated showcase of South Asian talent. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and I am already marking my calendar for the next Festival of India talent show.
Information was also obtained from www.foi2010.com
Footnotes:
1. Ghagra-choli: traditional festive garment worn by women in the Indian subcontinent. Ghagra cholis are intricately designed long skirts worn with a blouse and a roll over chunari (scarf).
2. Dhoti: traditional formal garment worn by men in the Indian subcontinent. Dhotis are rectangular unstitched cloths, about seven yards long that wrap around the waist and legs.

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