Celebrating diversity through performance art was the essence of Oberlin’s 17th annual Colors of Rhythm performance, held April 5 at Finney Chapel. The program was made up of 10 acts, each representing a different marginalized cultural group represented at Oberlin.
In line with the history of CoR, dance was the most prominent art form on the program. Particularly impressive for their liveliness and synchronicity were the Umoja Steppers and Students of Caribbean Ancestry. The Steppers even took a cheeky moment onstage to challenge a previous criticism published in The Oberlin Review that they “didn’t practice enough.” Their strong performance certainly spoke to their preparation.
While dancing dominated the show, some of the biggest highlights of the night included blends of many performance arts. Guest artist Patricia Nguyen, a graduate student in Performance Studies at Northwestern University, combined storytelling, performance poetry and dance to communicate her feelings about being a Vietnamese American. She guided a long yellow cloth, her only prop, through the air with ease, not only illustrating her words concretely — at one point wrapping it up and cradling it like a baby — but also creating a sense of visual poetry in the more abstract motions.
Oberlin College Taiko presented another great combination of art forms. The taiko drumming was invigorating on its own, but the group’s careful, deliberate choreography was a welcome added layer to please the eye and complement the listening experience.
The most distinct performance of the evening, however, belonged to guest artist D’Lo. Described as “a queer/trans Tamil Sri L.A.nkan-American, political theatre artist/writer, poet, director, comedian, and music producer,” D’Lo showcased their stand-up comedy for CoR, which was an exciting change of pace for the program. D’Lo focused on the topics of gender and sexuality, often in connection with their Sri Lankan heritage. D’Lo made two appearances on the program, first in normal clothes and later wearing a Sri Lankan dress, acting as their mother. The second part, like the first, began humorously, with some clever teasing about D’Lo’s mother’s conservative views on femininity, but an abrupt silence fell over the hall when the performer revealed that D’Lo had an older sister, more traditionally feminine than D’Lo ever had been, who had died in a plane crash. The performance soon regained a more comedic tone, but that glimpse into the mother’s sincere struggle to accept D’Lo as a “less traditional” daughter and eventually as a son — as well as D’Lo’s struggle to be accepted as such — cast a sobering shadow over the rest of the performance, allowing it to resonate much more deeply.
Other performers on the program included student groups Mestizo Americanos para la Liberación de los Oprimidos (MALOS), dance troupe KOREO, African Students’ Association (ASA), Sabor y Ritmo and the South Asian Student Association. Despite some technical difficulties and the show’s long running time, stretching roughly two and a half hours, CoR proved rewarding and unique in its showcase of the art of marginalized cultures. Proceeds from the show went to the Oberlin Community Youth Scholarship Fund.