LI’s 34th annual Cabaret continues to impress

Kristi Ruff

Lawrence International hosted their 34th annual Cabaret, a beautiful blend of international culture, this past weekend. The show featured various acts ranging from musical performances to ethnic dances to fashion shows. Each act was unique, although some were more interesting than others.
The show opened with the Sambistas, showcasing traditional Brazilian samba music. As always, the percussion ensemble was excellent in performance, aptly combining the syncopated rhythmic beats with traditional dance.
After Sambistas filed out, Ranga Wimalasuriya and his band took the stage and performed the Jimmy Cliff song “Many Rivers to Cross.” This piece might initially seem to be lacking a display of the kind of cultural diversity featured at Cabaret, but the band added a twist: The song was a Sri Lankan version and half the lyrics were in Sinhala, the native language of Sri Lanka. In that country, it is considered “a song of peace,” according to the emcees, Suzie Kraemer and Sarist Macksasitorn.
The Lawrence street dance club followed the song, performing one of the most tasteful hip-hop routines I have ever seen. The four men from four different countries danced to a mash-up of different songs, which kept things interesting.
One of the best things about the group, however, was the costuming. They all wore Lawrence sweatpants with one of their own t-shirts. While this doesn’t seem particularly earth-shattering, I thought it was really neat that they managed to show the unity they share here at Lawrence while still adding a touch of individuality.
While I would love to continue and review the entire show, I will have to compromise and give you a brief overview some of the other highlights of the show. While the emcees were not particularly funny – in fact, many students complained afterward that they really detracted from the show – many of the acts were absolutely amazing.
The street dancing as well as the Hmong, Brazilian and Mexican dances were all very interesting. It was fascinating to hear about the different backgrounds and contexts in which each dance is usually performed, and then to see each one performed.
Though each dance featured beautiful costumes and intricate movements, they were all radically different. One was a flirtatious dance incorporating handkerchiefs, one was a dance of friendship utilizing movements more reminiscent of ballet and the last featured the “zapateo” or footstomp, and was brighter and more upbeat.
The Korean song “Breeze of the Soul” was quite moving as well. The singer conveyed the emotions of the song about growing older and missing loved ones quite beautifully. The final act of the first half of the show, Bhangra Bash, featured women in red robes and men in blue, performing an upbeat dance from the Indian subcontinent that got the entire audience into its groove.
After intermission, the show began again with Lawrence’s new gamelan ensemble. This performance was particularly mesmerizing – the haunting, repeated cycle of the gamelans combined with the intricate movements of the dance by Pak Dewa, a Balinese gamelan master, made for an absolutely amazing performance.
In Bali, the dance is meant to be humorous and joking, featuring a masked dancer performing awkward movements that appear to contort the body in strange ways. The differences in culture were made apparent here – some actually found the mask slightly disturbing. The gamelan ensemble provided fascinating insight into the many ways cultural norms can be interpreted in different countries.
Another interesting performance was called “Tian Lu,” meaning Sky Road, and told the story of railroad between Tibet and China, “linking Tibet to the outside world.” While the dance itself was beautifully compelling, what I found most interesting was that it was a described as a “Tibetan dance, from China,” illuminating the differences in cultural perception between Americans and Chinese people.
Following these amazing acts, Cabaret ended with a bang, featuring three awesome finales. An African-Caribbean fusion featured a mix of powerful ethnic dance and modern hip-hop.
While at times I felt that the hip-hop detracted from the overall power of the performance, in the end I thought it showcased not only the diversity between the two types, but also their similarities and actually enhanced the message of diversity that Cabaret attempts to convey. The large group of people all performing such upbeat, syncopated moves while dressed in vibrant, colorful costumes really made it all the more fun to watch.
The penultimate performance, a Dominican Bachata danced by two alumni incorporating hip-hop and tango steps, was awesome. Followed by an energetic performance by Japanese students in Gettapu, the end of the show was truly inspiring not only in terms of impressive performances, but also in terms of cultural diversity. It was truly fascinating to experience so much culture in such a short time.