Photos by Di Guo ’21
From left: Bhangra, Renz Ren ’20, Rainbow Jelly, and Taal at VariAsians.
BY VICTORIA WANG ’20 AND CHRISTINE XIAO ’21
Hosted annually for more than 20 years, VariAsians is an iconic Mount Holyoke event celebrating Pan-Asian culture with a blend of conventional and modern performances by student groups. This year’s VariAsians brought fresh energy to the beloved Mount Holyoke event, with familiar acts joined by new student performances that brought a fresh take on an already popular celebration. Students and community members from across the Pioneer Valley filled Chapin Auditorium on Friday, Nov. 9 for dinner and a performance starting at 7 p.m.
To begin the evening, the Asian Student Association (ASA) ordered food from various local restaurants, including Vietnamese, Indian, Thai, Korean and Chinese dishes. After time for food and conversation, more guests filled audience seats in the balcony to enjoy the second part of the evening: the performances.
The show opened with the Chinese Music Ensemble, the first student-directed and student-run Chinese instrumental orchestra at Mount Holyoke. Students played traditional Chinese instruments like the guzheng and the pipa, creating a harmony that wowed the audience.
Staples of VariAsians, dance groups Sky Dance, Taal and Raunak Bhangra performed at the event as they have in previous years. Sky Dance performs traditional and folk Chinese dance, Taal is a Bollywood Fusion group and Bhangra incorporates Punjabi folk dance into hip hop. Taal and Bhangra dancers blended traditional melody with modern pop rhythms to reinvent cultural dances and present a contemporary version of traditional Asian cultures. The Vietnamese Student Association also made an appearance to perform a group dance.
After traditional cultural dance groups performed, student pop dance groups — K-pop groups from Mount Holyoke and the Five Colleges, as well as Mount Holyoke’s J-pop group, ODM — took to the stage. With exciting choreography and talented soloists, the energy from their performances was contagious. As the groups enthusiastically performed, the audience cheered the names of the dancers.
While the group performances were especially well-received, individual performers impressed the crowd as well. Student singers brought both modern R&B performances and traditional songs in their native languages to the stage. Renz Ren ’20, a student from Mongolia, performed a Mongolian traditional “long song” with a modern twist — an electric guitar. Audience members said Ren’s performance was especially impressive. “I had no exposure to Mongolian art, and her voice is so unique and catching,” said Sara Harda ’19. “It gives me chills!”
In addition to the event’s usual music and dance performances, this year’s VariAsians included performances in new mediums. Linda Zhang ’20 gave a spoken word performance, narrating a story from the perspective of an Asian-American named Lao San. Zhang moved the audience with her expressive and heartfelt words about the struggles of second-generation immigrants using first-person narration to describe a difficult transition in San’s life.
Another K-pop group, Mount Holyoke’s Rainbow Jelly, was the final dance performance of the night. Accompanied by enthusiastic shouts from the crowd, their passionate and high-energy performance hyped up the audience. VariAsians concluded with a performance that happens every year — a fashion show displaying a variety of Asian ethnic attire, which was met with rounds of applause from the audience.
This year’s event was well-received by audience members. Annie Huynh ’20 attended the event and was especially impressed by the dance performances. “I really loved how the different dances feature different Asian cultures,” she said. “I enjoyed every single one of them. They are so beautiful.”
The captain of Five College K-pop group DBJ, UMass Amherst student Rebecca Yeh feels that K-pop is an important aspect of Korean culture and was glad to be able to share it at this event. “While [K-Pop] is only one aspect [of] Korean culture, I believe that Korean people find pride in having such a popular cultural format that represents their country across the globe,” she said. “Pop dances are a very great way to spread the country’s culture.”
With a month of preparation from the ASA, VariAsians was the result of a significant amount of effort behind the scenes.
Preparation started at the beginning of October, when ASA sent out an open call for auditions. The selection process for the show was based on the quality, form and diversity of the performances. “We don’t like the idea of selection. Everyone who came for audition was very skilled and prepared,” said Prokriti Shyamolima ’19, co-chair of ASA. “During the selection, we would think about how the acts interact[ed] with each other and how they [could] provide regional diversity to the audiences.” Besides the performances by Mount Holyoke students, other colleges in the Five College Consortium were represented at the event, with performances from a UMass dance group. Yeh spoke highly of ASA. “MHC’s ASA is really good about communicating and organizing rehearsals. They really cater to our needs as performers,” said Yeh.
ASA determined the decorative theme for the event — plants and flowers — last spring. “Our design team came up with so many creative ideas within the limited amount of money,” said Shyamolima, “[and] lots of decorations were made by ourselves, such as those paper butterflies on the dinner tables.”
As a senior, this was Shyamolima’s last VariAsians. Although she herself worked extremely hard to make sure the end result was a success, she also expressed her gratitude to Tim Dietrick from Student Programs and to the stage crew for their support and help with the event. She attended her first VariAsians as a guest in her first year and began working to put on the event in her sophomore year. “Although it requires so much time commitment and it is especially stressful during [...] midterm week, I really appreciate my working experiences within these three years. I will miss this stage a lot and I know our new members will do great for next year’s show.”