It took everything the audience had to not get up and start dancing.
CuBHANGRA, the troupe that opened the 2009 NSOP Performance Showcase in Roone Arledge Auditorium, had contagious energy Sunday night. The list of performers that joined them was long and varied in style and genre, although a bit disproportionately heavy on dance organizations.
What makes cuBHANGRA so popular is the organic way its members dance. The combination of their electrifying music, with its heavy-metal-like intensity, and the definitive flavor of Punjabi culture makes the group a consistent crowd pleaser. Their emphasis is not on technique or synchronization, but on an inner unity that is shared among the dancers as they organize into aesthetically pleasing forms with their bodies. The flaired movement of the dancers’ hands as they remain in an upright angle for many steps is one defining characteristic of their cultural heritage, and the smiling and lip-synching is a sign of the group’s well-rehearsed cohesion.
Sabor, one of the largest Latino organizations on Columbia’s campus, was the next dance group on the program. While the paired salsa dancing was focused and had clean choreography, the other movements lacked similar polish, and transitions between songs were jarring. Sabor dances in many different styles including Latin, hip-hop, reggaeton, and Caribbean. And while its broad influences give Sabor many sources of inspiration, the group’s direction, purpose, and mood seemed at times tentative and unclear during the performance.
The Columbia University Dance Team made an appearance for about one minute, offering a sneak peak at their upcoming season with the basketball team. Despite the brevity of the performance, the squad still managed to show off its high level of technique. The group’s moves were synchronized and sharp, though the generic style—jazz and hip-hop with a hint of cheerleading—did not allow for much personal freedom.
The contrary was true of Taal, Columbia’s South Asian fusion dance troupe, which specializes in different styles of Indian classical dance. This was one of the only groups that showcased a slow, lyrical section without a heavy beat. The opening was almost balletic, with the two dancers coordinating port de bras in a fluid, continuous fashion. Taal’s performance seemed to increase in intensity as it proceeded—the music became more percussive and the movements became more rhythmic as the dance went on.
Orisha, a Pan-African dance troupe, followed Taal. This group was defined by its free-spirited, natural sentiment. The dancers were uninhibited in their movements, and their brightly colored costumes complimented a lighthearted mood. The engaging music, as well as the dancers’ free-flowing hair and enthusiastic expresstions, all contributed to the success of this group’s performance.
Other dance troupes on the roster included Orchesis, CU Swing, CU Ballroom, Raw Elementz, CU Bellydance and Columbia Dhoom. With its broad selection of dance groups, the showcase certainly did a service to dance on campus. Not only did it advertise the vast spectrum of Barnard and Columbia dance troupes, but, through the use of quick transitions, it also succeeded in keeping the audience on its feet.