Enthusiastic students flocked the waiting areas as early as 7:15pm. Doors opened at precisely 7:30pm, and we were in for a treat. Benches and stools were set at the back of the studio. I, however chose to sit on the floor to get a closer view of the stage (maybe not the wisest choice, stay tuned to find out why).
The dimly lit room set just the right atmosphere for the evening. Sergio Camacho, UNMC Director of Performing Arts, kicked off the night with a few words. Quoting him, Metamorphosis is aimed at “creating art through music, poetry and drama.”
The UNMC Chinese orchestra performed two songs; “Miao Hui” and “Mo Li Hua.” “Miao Hui” gave off adventure vibes while the other sounded mysterious. It was a slow opening act, but the staccatos, allegros and accelerandos was refreshing. Other music performances included Jasmine who performed “The Key” by JJ Lin, a duet by Jia Yee and Jing Xuan who covered two songs; “Midnight Train” by Sam Smith and “All I Ask” by Adele. The raspy, sultry tone of the lead singer worked well with both song choices, and there were literal gasps audible.
I was pleasantly (like, really pleasantly) surprised by Adeeba Athirah who performed “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone (in this house, we only stan legends). Kareema Ramli, a former student at UNMC, apologized for her “mainstream” song choice but her strong vocals completely captivated me, simultaneously making up for the fact that If “I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys has been covered far too many times.
Luis Ortega performed a 17th century British repertoire, sung in countertenor, but not before apologizing beforehand for “sounding ridiculous”. A cello and a sheng, a Chinese wind instrument, accompanied his solo and really, there was nothing remotely ridiculous about his performance – if you listened with an open mind. Sergio Camacho and Tan Elynn captured the very essence of Metamorphosis with the four songs they performed. “El gallo camaron”: a Peruvian/Creole tune that tells a tale of a fighting cock who stands by his duty to protect and defend his master. “Dime,” a piece written by Sergio himself, “Por que llorar” and lastly, “Amor de juventud,” accompanied by a Spanish guitar and the Chinese guitar: ruan.
The first poem of the evening was presented by Sheen Yee – “Fragmented Glass”, a poem that conveyed a powerful message of betrayal and trust. “Transition”, dedicated to individuals struggling with gender and sexual identities was delivered by Abhiramee in a soft, persuasive tone that left me wanting more. The closing line “No longer my mother’s son, no longer a mirage of yesterdays” had me struggling to hold my tears back.
Ashvin Singh pointed out mass murders and the lack of human in “humanity” in “Puppet Shows,” while Josette Larue performed “The Room”, another powerful piece fuelled by symbolisms and imagery. Amanda explored anxiety, complexity and the struggles of being a misfit in a short story titled “Segue.” I could feel the isolation through her lexicon and it was a reminder of how we all struggle with thoughts that sometimes consume us. Referencing Twitter when she said, “from the outside, looking in”, I felt that.
The lecturers from the School of English did a little switch up, reading each other’s poems. Luis Ortega recited “Words for the Lonely” by Prof. Malachi Edwin Vethamani and this one tugged at my heartstrings. This was followed by one of Dr Shivani Sivagurunathan’s poems, “Day at the Mosque”. My favourite line goes something along the lines of “who can say if the time is coming, has come, or is here?” Deep. Towards the end of the night, he read Dr. Carina Hart’s poem: “Your brain cells sing when they die”. Trust a poet to write about Diet Coke that leaves you questioning your entire existence. Also to be mentioned was Dr Shivani’s recital of “Mad” by Chuah Guat Eng, that spoke about empty spirits and hollowed dreams, “Chinese Graveyard” by Luis Ortega, and “Rain” by Prof. Danton Remoto.
Aishwarya Adaikalaraj performed a short monologue from the recent LADS play, We Could **** You, Mr Birch; she was in character as Kuntum, a female who is subjected to patriarchy. This monologue explores her struggle – staying loyal to her husband and never seeing him again, or giving her virtue up, for the slight, non-guaranteed possibility of seeing her husband, even for ten minutes.
The highlight of my night was the Bollywood-Kollywood dance number by Dr. Geetha Baskaran and her daughter, Gashika Nambiar. The art of presenting a culture so gracefully through speed and precision was absolutely enchanting. The sound of their silver anklets slamming the stage and the vibrancy of their traditional outfits, adorned with silver jewellery brought the room to life. The crowd roared as Gashika performed a cartwheel, and closed off with a split. Gashika also performed a Tamil solo, “Senthoora.” The crowd was (audibly) very excited to see her again and her smile had me hooked.
The night ended with an acapella performance from Les Voix. The play on the lighting was interesting and beatboxing added texture to their performance. A perfect choice for the grand finale.
The collision of different cultures, languages and talents truly captured the definition of Metamorphosis. The gluteus maximus cramps and smell of shoes and socks were worth it, after all.
By Loshni Nair
Photos by Kirushangiri Jaya Kumar
Edit (11 December, 2017): A reference to a “Chinese flute” in the fifth paragraph was replaced with the name of the instrument – the “sheng”. Our apologies.