SASA Showcase Pokes at Cultural Stereotypes in Culture Performance

The word “rangeela” means “colorful” in Hindi, and the vibrancy of the performances throughout the South Asian Student Association’s (SASA) annual culture show illustrated why the name was chosen to embody their message of bringing diversity to life at BC. Members and friends of the SASA performed to a sold-out Robsham Theater this Saturday, celebrating the organization’s 20th anniversary.

Simi Siddalingaiah, the secretary of SASA and MCAS ’18, opened the show with a beautifully raw rendition of the Indian national anthem. As the whole theater rose in respect, many of the family members in the audience began to quietly sing and hum along. In a poignant moment before the energetic show began, emcees Aniket Saoji, MCAS ’17, and Ameet Kallarackal, CSOM ’18, explained that they wanted to honor the parents and grandparents of SASA students for their hard work and sacrifice.

From there, Saoji and Kallarackal switched up the mood, bringing the laughter and camaraderie that would carry the rest of the evening. They did not shy away from poking fun at cultural stereotypes such as arranged marriages and family pressures—even simulating their parents flipping a coin to decide if their children would become doctors or engineers in college—and in doing so provided a picture of growing up in a blend of South Asian and American cultures.

Masti, SASA’s official dance team, kicked off the performances with a lively tour through the different regions of India. With bare feet and hands raised in beautiful gestures, the dancers flashed in and out of intricate formations. Their shifting, fluid formations drew the eye as they switched between widely diverse styles of dance. They drew the loudest cheers, however, when they fused traditional-inspired moves with popular songs such as Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”

Beginning with the freshmen, each class year performed a large group piece throughout the show. Playful moments like the freshman boys forming a chorus line at the front of the stage spiced up the technical and synchronized choreography, which was especially impressive given that the dances are open to non-members, many of whom were not trained dancers.

Before each piece, the presenters played short videos introducing the choreographers and showing a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the hours of practice that went into each piece. Seeing students joke around between dancing barefoot in the classrooms of Stokes gave the audience a window into the way the SASA community extends into daily life for many BC students.

The emcees then led a dance-off between the boys and girls of SASA, each competing to win the loudest cheers (and dinner at Corcoran Commons for one of the emcees). The boys worked it through playful and confident moves featuring lots of high fives and exploded off the stage into the aisles. Nevertheless, it was the girls, led by choreographers Shefali Shrivastava, CSOM ’18, and Tulsi Pandya, CSOM ’19, who clearly won the audience’s hearts and voices. Their infectious joy brought the audience to its feet as they switched from a flirty Bollywood-style intro to diving into the splits to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls).”

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Some of the most striking and precise displays of talent, however, came through the pieces showcasing more traditional forms of dance. In a dance called garba that celebrated the power of the goddess Durga, performers clashed wooden sticks with their partners in geometric patterns while their feet flashed out in complex steps. Toward the end of the dance, the performers gathered into an ever-tightening, spinning circle. The stark-white lighting against the dark stage and swirl of the dancers’ black and red skirts and silhouettes created a unique sense of drama and intensity.

That intensity continued in the choreography of bhangra, a dance style originally from Punjab. Dancers jumped and leaped to a constant pounding beat, highlighted by the sharp contrast between their black and bright yellow-gold costumes. Even when the sound briefly cut out before the dance, SASA alumni in the audience kept the beat alive through clapping and cheering.

After intermission, many of the performers from the first half filtered into the rows of seats and were meet with hugs and congratulations from their friends and family. Rangeela’s second act began with a fashion show of South Asian styles. The fashion show provided breathing room amid the rapidity of the dances and a smooth lead-in to the rest of the performance. Couples walked the stage in a parade of pinks, yellows, greens, and reds, often united by intricate gold embroidery. Each ensemble was distinct from the ones before it, revealing the incredible diversity within South Asian culture, one of the main themes throughout the show.

Audience members maintained the playful and communal atmosphere by calling out to their friends on stage. The cheers and catcalls grew especially loud when models would dance or strike a pose at the end of the stage: many couples surprised the audience with swing spins and dips, and two members of the hip-hop group Synergy showed off a few sharp moves at the edge of the stage.

The performances were also interspersed with short video “soap opera” skits featuring two teens who would rather twerk to “Bad and Boujee” than learn about their cultural heritage, much to the chagrin of their parents and grandparents. The skit culminates with the family coming together to celebrate Holi, the Indian festival of colors. In the final installment, the grandmother, played by Siddalingaiah, reflects on the message of both the films and Rangeela overall: the family’s culture brings color into their childrens’ lives, and they bring color into theirs

Before the final dance, the emcees honored its e-board and graduating senior class through a bittersweet slideshow of their memories together over the past four years that emphasized the sense of family within SASA.

The seniors then rushed onstage to perform the final number, choreographed by show coordinator Ashruti Patel, MCAS ’17; Aditya Luthra, CSOM ’17; Kristina Scully, CSOM ‘17; and Sourabh Banthia, CSOM ’17. Their billowing white costumes brought a sense of unity and grace to the group. As the pace increased and the seniors crowded around their “Class of 2017” flag, they became no longer performers on stage, but friends celebrating together.  

As one of the junior choreographers explained in their video, many of the members’ favorite moments of the annual culture occur after they step on stage: they hear the crowd screaming, their nerves disappear and they simply dance their hearts out.

Featured Image By Kristin Saleski / Heights Staff