Asian Culture Festival a Big Hit

Odaiko New England beating out the ?Festival? rhythm. - Photo by Kory Vergets

Odaiko New England beating out the ?Festival? rhythm. – Photo by Kory Vergets

Carl Brooks

It was a Pan-Asian Apollo Theater last Friday night at Snowden Auditorium as UMass students piled in to watch the 18th annual Asian Culture Festival, put on by the dedicated folks at the Asian Student Center. Plagued by occasionally hilarious technical problems, performers and MCs rose to the challenge and drew the audience into a lively, funny party as cultural organizations, UMB student clubs and students themselves put on a vibrant, wide-ranging display of performances. The audience rose to the challenge, filling the standing-room-only Snowden with hollers, cheers and groans as UMB students strutted their stuff, with the Indian and Pakistani dancers stealing the show.

Good humor and a relaxed attitude carried the day as the stage lights went out, the PA ranged from uber-loud to dead silent and stage sets displayed a mind of their own. One reason for the light-hearted mood may have been, as participant Yashoda Kampeloa put it, with a bright smile, “This year it was great! At least, compared to the problems they had last year…” The varied performances were capped off with a serious exhortation for AIDS awareness in Africa by the Black Student Center, who lent their support to the show this year.

MC’ed by a wise-cracking Cynthia Wang and man-about-campus Fritz Hyppolite, the show had an auspicious beginning. Wah Lum Pai, a kung fu club from Chinatown, heralded the opening of the show with a Lion Dance. The gaudy, beribboned lion capered about the stage and blessed the house by tearing up a lucky offering of green lettuce and an orange placed on the stage. The orange escaped the stage to safety, however.

The Angkor Dance Troupe came on next. Hosted out of sister school UMass Lowell, the troupe is dedicated to preserving traditional Cambodian dances and folklore. Angkor Dance is famous nationwide for their superb performances. Wearing authentic and intricate costumes, the troupe performed the “Fishing Dance” an ensemble piece that entranced the crowd with its sweet, “guy meets girl, girl highly unimpressed” storyline. They also performed their signature Swva Pol, or Monkey Dance, which busted out the moves halfway through as strings and flutes segued to “Let the Beat Go On” and the masked monkeys started expert, extra fly breakdancing.

A sumo (traditional Japanese wrestling) skit got hoots aplenty as Hyppolite sauntered on stage in an understuffed fat suit and took his lumps from the audience. Hilarity endued as the sumo did Elvis impersonations and cajoled one another to eat.

The audience decided it really wanted to be a part of the show during the Middle Eastern belly dance. A trio of buff young gentlemen covered completely in gold paint strutted on stage, and one of them was seen to roll his eyes heavenward as his friends catcalled him and laughed. The laughing stopped when the dancing began, however, a very hot, decisively untraditional routine that got plenty of applause. The MCs tried to steal the show with an audience participation game, called “Ah, Um, Like (don’t say any of those!),” but one stoic audience member stole it back, quipping, “I’m Stan. The Man. I’m Done.” Everybody got a prize.

The Pakistan Student Association blew the audience away with their fast moves and perfect choreography, getting yells of applause for their dance, in all traditional clothes and all modern Pakistani pop music. With the men in traditional loose robes and pants and the women in jaw-dropping saris, they funkified the stage to such an extent that some of the audience never recovered, and spent the rest of the night giddy. Desi Hangama, from the South Asian Youth Association performed a similar feat and brought the crowd out of their seats. Other highlights included Odaiko New England stunning the audience with their earth-shaking Japanese drumming, and Bounty Hunters Crew b-boying to intermittent musical accompaniment, much to the crowd’s enjoyment, and “Madman on the Roof” performed by the UMB Japanese Club, whose stage set took a bow with the actors, collapsing into a handy travel size as the play ended. The stage lights went out at one point, and Camphuong Luong, coordinator of the Asian Center and resplendent in bare feet and a royal blue cheongsam, made a cutting remark about Governor Romney and budget woes, which toppled the audience from its fragile perch of rationality into hilarity once again.

The fashion show was also a treat, as models came out to goof and show off exquisite traditional apparel, ending as the MCs came out together to take a bow, dazzling in gold, King and Queen of their flawed, funny, energetic and great-spirited little kingdom, as royal a sight as could be imagined.

And the Indian/Pakistani fashion show upstaged them all, yet again, with an elaborate choreography and droll pantomime that made the crowd roll over and gasp for breath. The treats came and went, and the night ended as a rousing success for the Asian Center and for all the groups involved in this spirited, fun production.