International students dazzle at 2019 International Autumn Gala

A group of female college students perform a dance in traditional Indian classical attire.
5C Natya performs a South Indian classical dance during the sixth annual International Autumn Gala on Oct. 26. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

There are few events that headline an aerial silks performance, a Korean rap and a traditional Kurdish dance all in one night, but 5C students got to see all three at Bridges Auditorium last Saturday.

The 2019 International Autumn Gala, hosted by the International Place of the Claremont Colleges on Oct. 26, showcased international student talent in various forms from dozens of cultures around the world, with acts like a traditional Japanese taiko drumming performance, an Armenian Tsaghkadzori folk dance and an Argentinian tango. 

Kavi Ali PZ ’23 performed the Halparke, a traditional Kurdish dance, as a form of expression and representation, mentioning her personal experience at the 5Cs.

“When I first came to Pitzer, I was surprised by the lack of cultural representation and events that would feature students’ talents,” she said via message. “When I heard of [the gala], I knew that was the place for me to show up.” 

Ali nearly pulled out of the gala on account of Turkey invading Western Kurdistan, but realized her performance could be “a symbol of resistance” through cultural celebration, she said. 

Gunn Phikrohkit PZ ’22, president of the Pitzer International Students Association, partook in multiple dance performances throughout the night and said the gala encouraged individual student expression. 

“Personally, I am really happy that I-Place organized this event,” he said via message. “As an international student, I feel that [it] encouraged international students from different countries to celebrate and share our uniqueness and differences, [and] it was really wonderful performing with people who share parts of my identity and life experiences.”

Event organizer and host Sushmith Kulkarni PO ’20 echoed Phikrohkit’s sentiments, noting how International Gala is unique in its ability to showcase one-of-a-kind acts. Performance-based events are typically organized through a college or organization and often have to fit into a certain category, and International Gala’s more flexible criteria lend itself to a greater variety of acts, he said.

“This kind of a talent show is a nice way to do it because the people who are performing have control over what they perform and how they are presented,” Kulkarni said. 

A female college student in traditional Indian classical attire holds a pose during a dance.
Meenakshi Venkatraman HM ’20 performs in the South Indian classical dance during the International Autumn Gala on Oct. 26. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Because of this level of control given to students, their performances are able to be more personal, he added.

“You get to show off things you do at home or … with your family or a group of friends that is close and personal to you,” Kulkarni said. “Giving [more unique] talents a platform is a great part of [the show].”

International Gala is a learning experience as well, Kulkarni said, whether you’re a performer or an attendee. 

“[People have] … this tendency to homogenize people who we see as different,” he said. “Events like this not only give you an idea of how diverse the international student body is, but also how diverse people from [different communities are]. For example, two Japanese performances and two Indian acts performed, and they were quite different.” 

Rohan Ahammed PO ’23 was drawn to the event specifically because of the wide array of  performances.

“I was interested because everyone [at the 5Cs] has such a unique background, and this is a unique celebration of international dance and culture that isn’t on display like this, especially in a venue like [Bridges Auditorium].”

Lucy Ordman SC ’21, who went as an attendee, spoke to the significance of having a platform to perform art close to the heart.

“It’s really important to have this space where people can share what is really important to them, whether it’s a part of their cultural heritage or a performance that they’ve been working on for weeks or months,” she said.

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