Arts & Life

SVSA’s Culture Night brings laughter and reflection

May 2, 2022, 12:17 a.m.

The Stanford Vietnamese Student Association’s (SVSA) Culture Night was an exceptional display of fun-filled performances and celebration of the Vietnamese community. After months of careful planning by the club following two years online during COVID-19, the two-hour event returned to campus in full force on Saturday with a night of song, dance, comedy and fashion. Culture Night is a signature event of college Vietnamese Student Associations across the country.

Emcees Brandon Lieu ’23 and Benjamin Zaidel ’24 were excellent, stringing together each performance with witty banter and crowd interaction. The pair also wove in some Vietnamese history and culture between acts, recognizing the event date’s complicated significance. Zaidel is an editor for The Daily.

SVSA’s Culture Night was held on April 30, the same date in 1975 when North Vietnamese troops captured Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, marking the end of the 20-year Vietnam War. Per the event’s program, “To some it is Reunification Day, recognized as a public holiday in Vietnam; to others, it signifies the Fall of Saigon and Black April.”

A hallmark of each year’s Culture Night is the full-length play. This year’s play was titled “Nhà Là Nơi Để Về” (“home is where you belong”), which was also the night’s theme. The play starred Zaidel and Serena Tran ’25 as former childhood best friends who bump into each other many years later and reminisce on their shared memories. As Zaidel and Tran sat frozen in memory, actors Annie Trinh ’24 and Kyle Nguyen ’23 acted out flashbacks as their high school counterparts. 

With just a sparse few comedic moments — both through jokes from the cast as well as the awkwardly funny moments in scene changes — the play was one of the more serious moments of the night, tackling assimilation, immigration and finding community.

A life sized red lion puppet operated by two students walks up the aisle of Dinkelspiel Auditorium
The red lion runs up the stage, directly engaging with the crowd. “The viewer almost forgot the lion wasn’t actually alive,” Cameron Duran wrote. (CAMERON DURAN/The Stanford Daily)

The Múa Lân, or Lion Dance, was also a standout performance. Two lions, one red and one yellow, emerged from the wings of Dinkelspiel Auditorium with intrigue and personality. Two students operated each puppet: Anh Huynh ’25, Brandon Kenery ’23, Daisy Wang ’25 and Nicolle Hendzel ’23, moving together with impressive coordination so that the viewer almost forgot the lion wasn’t actually alive.

The Lion Dance moved to the beat of an on-stage drum and cymbals, and included impressive stunts requiring both athletic and artistic skill. In one particularly notable moment, the front half of the lion rose and stacked on top of the back, creating the illusion of rearing back legs. Mid-performance, the red lion ventured through the middle aisle of the theater, allowing the audience to see the exquisite detail of the costume and intricate movement of the character up close.

The act also went comedic when the disembodied back half of the yellow lion returned to the stage to be chased by the still-intact red lion. The skit ended with the red lion spewing dozens of candies into the audience, much to the crowd’s delight.

The skit “A Vietnamese Wedding,” directed by Camille Luong ’25, was a crowd favorite. The skit was full of Stanford-centric references, including allusions to the Marriage Pact, LinkedIn and Symbolic Systems majors, which brought raucous laughter from the crowd. Though there seemed to be a handful of inside jokes targeting specific members of the cast, the skit was easily enjoyable by those unacquainted with the behind-the-scenes information.

The night featured a few large group dance performances by Múa Lạc Hồng, including the crowd favorite “Sexy Dance,” a “Traditional Dance,” “Couples Dance” and “Modern Dance.” The group’s commitment and joy were contagious, and the performances were addictively fun to watch.

In addition to dance, the Culture Night included several singing acts. “Đông,” a final duet performed by Vy Tran ’24 and Vy Thai ’23, stood out for its alluring stage presence and chemistry, with the singers having vocal chops to match. The end of the song was marked by an audience member screaming, “That was so hot!” followed by vocal agreement throughout the crowd.

The audience felt as important to the night as the performances themselves. The crowd’s vocal support was incessant, with friends cheering on performers in between, and even during, the acts. A trivia portion tested the crowd’s knowledge of Vietnamese geography, culture and language, while a spring-roll-making competition put culinary skills front and center.

SVSA’s Culture Night was at times touching, while also being funny and thoroughly entertaining. Put simply, the SVSA’s return to the stage was an overwhelming success.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Cameron Duran '24 writes for the Arts & Life section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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