SILVIA CANTU BAUTISTA/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS
“Exits are on the left and the right in case of emergency, or if there’s just too much culture for you.”
The crowd erupts into laughter, and Masters of Ceremony Sara Jarrar ’19 and Pyone Aye ’19 usher their witty colleague Hamza Kiyani ’19.5 off the stage in preparation for the first act.
Kiyani’s warning is justified: a shortage of culture is certainly not an issue here. The annual cultural showcase “Midd Worldwide” of the International Student Organisation brought performances from five different continents to Middlebury in Wilson Hall on Nov. 30. Consisting mainly of dance and music, the show explored themes ranging from ancestral roots and cultural identity to resilience in the face of adversity.
Getting this far was not easy. In the week leading up to the Friday night show, groups spent as many as three hours a day in rehearsal.
“It was rough,” said Frieda Thaveethu ’22, who grew up in Malaysia and performed as part of the South Asian dance group Midd Masti. “But [rehearsing] was also a stress reliever. It’s a very social activity, and you get a break away from work.”
A performance titled “Vietnam: Fields of Flowers” kicked off the show as the curtains opened to reveal a single figure standing on stage against a purple backdrop. Lit by a single spotlight, Thi Hoang ’20 sang a delicate Vietnamese melody that was followed by a traditional fan dance. Before the group had even settled in its final formation, a bass-heavy track boomed through the Hall and the fans were exchanged for contemporary choreography.
This mix of traditional and modern elements became a common thread for the show. The Vietnamese group’s combination of a regional dance and a contemporary counterpart was utilized by many. Some even chose to pay homage to giants from decades ago, and paired the catchy beats of ABBA’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme!” and “Voulez-Vous” with disco moves representative of the era.
Out of the Asian countries that dominated the line-up of “Midd Worldwide,” South Korea was particularly well represented. Beginning with an energetic choreography to “My Pace” by the K-pop band Stray Kids and followed by Jennifer Ko’s ’21 interpretation of a break-up song by R&B artist Lee Hi, the audience welcomed each Korean performance with enthusiasm.
The clear showstopper of the evening also hailed from South Korea. A rendition of “Dope” by BTS, a band consisting of seven members who have gained astounding amounts of popularity across the globe, caused the crowd to go wild with excitement. Reproducing everything from the band’s intricate choreography to costumes familiar from their 2015 music video, the performance was accompanied by thunderous cheers.
The event’s playful spirit was interspersed with more somber acts. Wilson Hall fell silent as MC Jarrar stepped on stage to recite a poem by Palestinian poet Rafeef Ziadeh, which described a young child killed by the Israeli army: “Who will tell Hadeel’s mother, busy baking bread and zaatar, that the doves will not fly over Gaza again, the doves will not fly over Gaza again, the doves will not fly over Gaza again.” In midst of spirited dances, it was performances like these that allowed us to take a step back and reflect on the pressing issues that continue to color everyday life in countries like Palestine.
To Thaveethu, the event was primarily about community.
“I think the whole point was to show our closest friends, the people we consider family, a different part of ourselves. [To show them] our other family, in some sense,” she said. “I’ve met so many people that I never would’ve met otherwise — we don’t have any classes together, we’re in different years. Sharing that interest in dance and our culture really brought us together.”
In its essence, “Midd Worldwide” gave a platform to the often forgotten parts of our student body and its character. Whether it be American swing dance, Russian folk music, or a Guyanese drag queen, this is us.