February 24, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Rangeela has celebrated diversity through the arts for 16 years.

There came a point in 1995, Anne Zaki’s first year at Calvin, when she decided to leave.

Zaki, an Egyptian student born in Cairo and educated at an international school in Vancouver, had come to Calvin expecting a little more global awareness and a lot more community: "There really wasn’t a lot for the internationals to do together … ," she said. “The few internationals who hung out together became very clique-y.” She decided to leave, but before she did, Zaki shared her critique of Calvin culture with two college staffers.

"They heard me well,” she recalled, “and they just basically said, ‘Well, that school that you went to was basically supposed to make you into a world leader, right … ? Well, this is your world. Make it better.’”

As she ruminated on that challenge, Zaki remembered “One World,” a cultural show that was a mainstay at the international school. The show featured dances and skits from all over the world: “I really liked the impact of it," she said, "so I stole it."

Fitting name

Zaki pitched the show to Linda Bosch, then Calvin’s international student advisor, who helped her pull together a student committee to plan the new event. A student from India who worked on that committee gave the new show a name: Rangeela, Hindi for "colorful.”  “The meaning … seemed quite fitting,” Zaki said.

She organized the show in its first year and helped choreograph much of its content, drawing on her high-school performing experience. “Gradually,” she said, “people came alongside with their own dances.” Bosch provided encouragement and lots of help with logistics—things like finding a place to rent multiple pairs of rubber boots for an African gumboot dance, for instance.

The first Rangeela debuted on the Fine Arts Center (FAC) stage on Saturday, February 22, 1996. The evening’s offerings included dances from Vietnam, Africa, India, Argentina and Egypt, plus a Filipino machut song, a Tae Kwon Do demonstration, a Hungarian piano solo, a Bangoli Song, a Pakistani video and the gumboot dance. The show also featured two emcees and an international fashion show, now Rangeela signatures. 

A sellout

"We had no idea how many people would come,” Bosch said. (One student warned her that she had printed too many programs.) The debut edition of Rangeela drew a crowd of between 500 and 600. In its second year, Rangeela nearly filled the FAC. In its third year, it sold out. Now in its 15th year, the show continues to sell out both performances and the Thursday dress rehearsal as well. (The original shows were free.)

The early Rangeelas had a thrown-together feel, admitted Bosch, and Zaki agreed: “The challenge for every year is that you’re working with many different cultures, each culture with its own idea of time or deadlines …,” she said. Also, sometimes the casting was a little off: “So you have the skit, and the young man who meets the parents is an African, speaking like an Indian,” she said.

"These are not professionals,” Zaki continued. “You know, they’re just having fun and trying to leave an impact on their campus, on their community. You expect things to go wrong. It's a student-led show … And then there are dances like that Korean Fan Dance, which is nothing less than professional.”

At some point the organizers developed a theme for each annual show: “Remix” ; “Revel and Rhythm” ; "Fusion" ; “A Passion for Culture” ; “Fabric Of His Kingdom.” Sometimes Rangeela plays it traditional; sometimes it takes a contemporary spin. “It depends on the director,” said Bosch.

Greatest hits

Down through the years, some acts have become audience favorites, Zaki said. “An Indian skit is always a big hit. An Indian dance is always a big hit. A Korean dance is always a big hit.” The students work hard, she said, which cultivates community, even romance: “There are several international couples, and I really think they got together at Rangeela. So many late nights, working together,” she said, laughing.

The show also fosters cultural offspring like the singing group African A Capella and the drum group Sankofa, both of which debuted at Rangeela. And the show fostered the International Student Association Committee (ISAC), created in 1998 to oversee the show.

Early in its existence, ISAC decided to use the proceeds from Rangeela to fund international student scholarships. And when Nigerian student Nyela Turaki died of a brain hemorrhage in 2004, ISAC also created a fund in her honor. The Nyela Turaki Memorial Fund provides travel expenses for international students needing to go home because of a family death. “It's a way the international students can show their sister or brother they are there for them in the time of their loss and grief,” Bosch explained.

"There are many stories that come from Rangeela, stories of cultures coming together,” said Zaki, who graduated Calvin in ’99 and Calvin Theological Seminary in 2009. “It puts Calvin on the map in the community.”

This year’s Rangeela debuts 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, February 25 and 26 on the stage of the new Covenant Fine Arts Center. The directors are senior Jemira Budijanto and junior Stephanie Hino. The theme of the show is “Minority Report."

“The idea is that the news that comes out in the countries these students come from is usually negative,” said Bosch. "So this is the minority report of the customs, music, dance, joy." The show features dances and skits from Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Germany, Spain, the Philippines, China, Korea, India, Polynesia, Latin America and Native America. There will be two emcees and a fashion show.

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