Roots, Leaves, History, Culture X
Brandeis celebrated the 20th anniversary of Culture X in Levin Ballroom on Saturday, an event that featured a whirlwind of performers showcasing cultures from all over the world. Guiding the event was the overall theme of the show — “From Roots to Leaves, Grounded in our Histories.”
In a March 11 interview with the Justice, Culture X chair team member Maurice Windley ’19 said that the theme is particularly meaningful in embodying the spirit of the show’s 20th anniversary. “This is the optimal time for us to go back into … the history of ICC and see the … impact the center had on the students at Brandeis University,” he said, adding that the organizers were trying to “give … back to the community in a display of ... cultural appreciation.”
Starting off the show, the audience was engaged by the Fafali percussion ensemble, a Ghanaian style drumming and dancing group. After this spirited introduction, the projector screen rolled down to show the Culture X trailer video created by frequent culture show filmer Amanda Huang ’19. The trailer displayed short clips of the performers practicing in their various rehearsal rooms.
The chairteam of Culture X — Connie Cai ’22, Gabi Rivero ’20, Imani Islam ’20, Windley and Brianna Brown ’19 — then came onstage to introduce themselves. “We really want to focus on bringing back history and making this 20th anniversary the biggest thing we could possibly make it,” Rivero said. They personally welcomed Dean of Students Jamele Adams onto the stage for a spoken word performance.
Before starting his poetry, Adams congratulated Poetic Justice, the Brandeis poetry slam team, for ranking among the top 20 poetry clubs in America after a recent national competition. He also introduced Cary Weir Lytle ’98, one of the organizers of the first ever Culture X show, inviting him onstage to say a few words. Lytle explained that he and a group of fellow Brandeis students decided to organize Culture X at a time of particularly acute racial tensions on campus to bring the Brandeis community together in recognition of their diversity. He left the stage to appreciative applause, and Adams began his performance, which explored the importance of immigrants in enriching cultures.
Windley was the emcee for the rest of the event. However, because there were so many performances to the show, he stayed off stage and announced each performance in a disembodied but cheerful voice. Windley was particularly impressed with the dances, enthusing that “there are so many professional dance groups on Brandeis.” To that end, in his interview with the Justice, Windley shared that culture shows generally succeed at “displaying this particular aspect of ... culture: … dancing as well as music performances.” He said that Culture X “bring[s] all of that to the stage,” showing a diverse array of backgrounds, giving students “the opportunity to show [their culture] to ... individuals who may not be too familiar with it.”
Following Adams, the Afro Diamonds came on stage for an energetic performance. These enthusiastic dancers come from the Waltham Africano Cultural Center and range in age from five to seventeen years old. They danced exuberantly in striking costumes of yellow and blue. Next came the Brandeis Ballet Company. Unlike the classical music one might expect from a ballet group, the dancers performed a piece called “Elephant.” As emcee, Windley explained that “Elephant … explores fluidity and sharpness inspired by animalistic movement.” This fluidity and sharpness could be seen in the steady beat and unconventional moves of the dancers.
Pop-dance group XL performed after the Ballet Company. According to the event program, XL is a group of girls who share their love of pop dance “inside and outside of Brandeis.” XL emphasized their unity with identical black crop tops and jazzy pants.
Next came guitar sensation Eli Kengmama ’19. Kengmama began with a simple melodic line that grew more complex as he began to alternate between playing and drumming his guitar –– a music style known as percussive acoustic.
Chak De amazed, as usual, displaying a mixture of Bollywood, classical Indian and hip hop style dance moves. The music reflected Chak De’s fusion nature, mixing Bollywood and Western pop music. The next performer, Zhen Quan ’22, was particularly impressive. Quan performed a solo dance piece that she choreographed herself, mixing elements of contemporary dance and traditional Chinese styles. Wearing a white, loose-fitting dress, she made creative use of the stage lighting and sang along to the music under her breath, making for a unique performance.
Culture X organizer Islam performed an original solo piece: a poem revealed at the end to be an ode to the Brandeis Intercultural Center. Islam thanked the ICC for showing her that Brandeis understood she did not just have “some kind of identity only accepted in pamphlet photos.”
Kaos Kids were the last to perform before the intermission. They performed under the conceit that they were taking the audience around the world, dancing to the music of the countries they stopped by. The Kaos Kids went to Mumbai, India, and Paris, France. Toxic Majorette were the first to perform after intermission. This group incorporated impressive gymnastic feats into their performance. Technical difficulties with the lighting led to a distracting initial performance, but the group was allowed to perform again, which they promptly did with increased gusto.
The show offered a small window into classical music with Culture X chair team member Cai, who has been studying the violin since she was four years old, according to Windley. She performed the first adagio movement in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor. Cai played beautifully, but the acoustics of the ballroom made her performance quieter than it could have been.
Platinum Step Team followed Cai, a group who used their bodies as instruments in a complicated, fast-paced series of perfectly in-sync clapping and stomping. Wearing exaggeratedly tough expressions, the older members of the group told the newer members to introduce themselves, which they each did in solo performances.
The next performance was the last musical group of the show. A band composed of Japanese Student Association and Taiwanese Student Association members played the song “Lemon” by Yonezu Kenshi. The song is the opening theme for a 2018 Japanese TV drama called “Unnatural” about a government laboratory that solves murders arising from “unnatural” circumstances. Eurey Noguchi ‘20 provided the vocals for the song, singing with soft enthusiasm.
WKD Dance group came next, a hip hop-based group that performed to a variety of well-known hits, from the children’s songs “Baby Shark” and “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” to Cardi B’s “Money.” At the end of their performance, they threw fake money into the crowd. Next to perform was the Sankofa dance ensemble, taking their name from a word in the Ghanain Afan language meaning “Go back and get it.” The performance began with a voiceover about the “fearlessness” of women throughout the African diaspora.” According to the voiceover, “these women sacrificed their lives to make sure Africa and her diaspora would be standing today,” but they are reincarnated in the Sankofa performers. The last group to perform was Rebelle, an Afro-Caribbean dance team. Windley explained that they “use the universal language of music and dance to share the flavors of the many cultures that make up the diaspora.” With their energetic dancing and glow-in-the-dark neon clothes, Rebelle was met with enthusiastic cheering from the audience.
After Rebelle, the Culture X organizers came on stage once more for acknowledgements, thanking everyone who had helped make the event a reality and getting thanked in turn for their own hard work in putting on the show. Windley shared in his interview that the event was the product of half a year’s worth of effort. “Our hope is that students become more and more involved in ICC by seeing the beauty of various cultures on campus,” Windley said of the event.
The night ended in an explosive grand finale, with the performers dancing throughout the Levin Ballroom to the Tune of Beyoncé’s “End of Time.”