Phillyfest Showcases South Asian Dance

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The third annual Phillyfest Dance Competition, a performance showcasing 12 top university South Asian dance groups, was held this past Saturday in Philadelphia’s Merriam Theater. Featured teams competed in groups of four within three stylistic categories: Fusion, Female Fusion, and Hindi Film Dance. Qualifying troupes hailed from all over, including the local female Drexel Jhalak group to several UC Hindi Film dance teams.

Each dance set was preceded by a short video that introduced some sort of storyline or theme for the following performance. Carnegie Mellon’s all-female Tanah, for example, danced a very well-choreographed set incorporating the “Seven Cardinal Sins.” Most teams stuck to loosely followed and often kitschy pop culture themes (UC Irvine’s Aladdin theme). TCNJ’s co-ed fusion team, Saathiya, and Penn State’s Dishoom, however, took advantage of the premise of their sets to convey a specific message. Dishoom drew comparisons between disparate American and Indian cultures, effectively fusing and integrating hip-hop styles with classical Indian beats and moves. PSU’s performances concluded with a symbolic call to leave American gates open to immigrants. TCNJ went for a rather dark albeit powerful statement of “this is the cost of war” with a set that began with a happy, innocent wedding that tragically ended with a bomb blast killing most of the wedding party.

Each routine clearly reflected the effort and attention to choreography and style. The event was both entertaining for its performance and the maniacal college students supporting their alma maters. Phillyfest hosts Pari and Harvin’s mildly funny skits between sets largely fell flat as an antsy crowd drowned the theater with roars of “We are Penn State” or “Drexel! Jhalak!” Renowned South Asian a capella group Penn Masala was better received with their performance of several Hindi-English fusion songs during the intermission.

Ultimately, Drexel Jhalak won the award for best overall performance and best Female Fusion routine while Penn State’s Dishoom won in the fusion category and UC Irvine took first place for Hindi Film Dance. Jhalak will now move forward to compete in the “Top Naach” and “Best of the Best” shows in Chicago, leaving the remaining teams and the rest of the South Asian dance world to begin anticipating next year’s Phillyfest competition.

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