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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Mela 2013, a massive success

Published: November 22, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc., Featured

Envision a room that hums with energy and music, delights the eye with every color imaginable and pulsates with tons of dancing. This festive and exciting celebration known as Mela filled almost every seat in the entire Levin Ballroom and balconies on Nov. 16.

Sponsored by the South Asian Student Association (SASA), Mela’s theme this year was Ran̈g—A Mosaic of Color. This mosaic parallels the mosaic of unique individuals who comprise the Brandeis community and the beautiful way in which people of so many races, backgrounds and religions coexist. The planning of this elaborate show takes place almost year-round. Sindhura Sonnathi, the co-president of SASA, said, “We begin to brainstorm themes individually over the summer so that when we meet in the fall, we can have really great discussions and can ultimately make our decision on the final theme together … by the end of September.” Sonnathi also said that she felt the theme allowed for the most vibrant show possible and was an ideal representation of what Mela is all about.

It was clear that Indian tradition is an integral part of many performers’ lives—almost every act included performers clad in traditional attire, with many of their family members and friends appearing in similar dress in the audience. The main component of the set, apart from the stage, was a gorgeous, huge and colorful backdrop adorned with glitter and designs representing the theme of a “mosaic of color.” The theme was very well-integrated into all of the performances, acting as both a central element of the South Asian culture as well as a significant component of the creative arts. As the announcers said before the show, “Color is how we perceive the world—it is home.”

Mela consisted of many different styles of dancing, including Bhangra (folk-style Punjabi folk dance characterized by twirling sticks) and Bharata Natyam (the Indian equivalent of ballet, characterized by graceful sculpturesque poses and pants with bells attached). The show also showcased other art forms including a fashion show, slam poetry, music, theater and stepping, although the program consisted of mostly dance. The crowd went wild for the show, clapping and cheering enthusiastically for every performance. There were good representations of students and dances from many South Asian countries: India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bhutan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal.

The emcees contributed to the funny and vibrant ambience, coupling quirky humor with respect for the performers. The emcees participated in some dances, showing that while Mela is supposed to be fun, it is important to pay homage to the countless traditions that are embodied in different South Asian cultures.

The most popular acts were the class dances (with each class embracing a different style of dancing), slam poetry, the Bellydance Ensemble, a brief musical act, the So Unique Step Team, the Brandeis Studs and Chak de ‘Deis. Among the class dances, the first-year dance displayed high-energy music and Bharatanatyam-inspired movements, and was playful and beautiful to watch. The sophomore dance was also paced, but could have been more uniform. The junior dance combined both slow and energetic songs, and was very well executed. The senior dance was emotional for many of the participants and excellently done. All of these dances exhibited almost explosive dancing that was very impressive to watch and did a good job of incorporating both male and female students into the choreography.

The slam poetry by Naman Patel ’15 was flawless and touching, addressing the plight of women in India, and its rhythmic patterns were mirrored by the step team’s perfect performance, proving that a non-South Asian group could bring as much to the table as other Mela performers. Chak de ‘Deis first showed a short film, where male and female dancers met under adorable circumstances set to the song “L-O-V-E” by Nat “King” Cole. They then followed it up with a flawless dance performance to outstanding choreography.

Ullas Rao ’15 and Prayuth ’15 Naduthota played traditional Indian drums and flute, showing mastery of their respective instruments, great melody and a style of music never before heard by many students. Additionally, the Brandeis Studs showed a short film explaining how the “studs” came to be so attractive and irresistible. This was followed up by a series of dances set to both Indian and American hip-hop music to which the audience was extremely receptive.

Other notable performances were the E-board dance, which could have been more uniform, a solo Bharatanatyam dance performed by graduate student Neeraja Reddy, which felt repetitive and was not as exciting to watch and the fashion show which presented many beautiful styles of traditional Indian clothes set to lively music.

Mela could not have been better executed, with the only major flaws being a delayed start of 20 minutes and some minor flukes. SASA even sponsored a charity called Plan International, whose goal is to enable families, communities and individuals from India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan to meet basic needs and enjoy the benefits of Social Security, promote the rights and interests of children worldwide and create unity.

Although SASA is comprised predominantly of Indians of all backgrounds, students of almost every race and ethnicity were present in the dances, fashion show and other presentations, reinforcing Brandeis’ philosophy of inclusivity.

Overall, SASA did a phenomenal and professional job putting together a show that enlightened and excited its audience.