From the performers and guests in traditional gowns to first-time attendees and backstage workers, ISCO Festival is an annual event that offers all the participants different experiences.
“It’s a party,” said Joe McCall, ISCO faculty adviser and an assistant professor of history. “It’s a party for 300 people and that makes it stressful but once it starts rolling, once the first act starts, I think the kids (ISCO officers) enjoy it more than anything.”
One of the first acts of this year’s festival was “Smoke of Jade,” a Chinese dance featuring a tragic love story that comes from the traditional fairytale described in the Li Shangyin’s poem of the same name.
“In our traditions or fairytales, when you bury the jade into the ground, it will show the smoke or the mist,” said Cheryl Qi, a junior political science major from Guangzhou, China, who was one of the performers. “You can see (the smoke) in the air; you can see it, but you cannot touch it, so it’s a tragic love story.”
According to Qi, the group chose the dance for its modern interpretation of the traditional Chinese style.
“If traditional is slower and more elegant, modernized (dance) follows the modern life speed,” she said.
Attending students also noted the atmosphere of the festival.
“It was really elegant,” said Jamie Caple, a sophomore computer science and art dual major from Clio, a festival first-timer. “It brought you into your feelings.
“It was really, really good. Everything was so soft and slow, but it was like a buildup of emotions. I got to see a lot of people’s talents that I didn’t know they had and their culture. It was beautiful that they shared their culture with us.”
Over the years, the festival has grown to be a formal event that presents the attendees with an opportunity to dress up in their cultural attires.
“I enjoy dressing up,” Caple said. “Plus if they’re in their traditional attire, that’s very respectful. I think we should show the same respect.”
Another first-time attendee Devin Austin, a sophomore computer science major from Birmingham, said seeing his friend on stage in her traditional attire made him feel like he learned something new about her.
“Most people who aren’t into their culture you wouldn’t see like that, so when you actually see them in their traditional dress it makes you think, ‘Oh its actually important to them,’ and it makes you think, ‘Oh I should have respect for it,’” Austin said. “It deepens your friendship with them because you appreciate them more.”
According to Darlene Schmurr-Sterwart, the dean of international student services, ISCO Festival has also become more professional over the years.
“It’s more organized, more professionalized,” she said. “It’s always been good though.”
McCall said that the noticeable change occurred when Quinton Cockrell, an assistant professor of theatre, stepped into the role of creative director of the festival.
“Quinton just brings so many skills,” McCall said. “He brings a calmness; he brings wisdom to the whole process of how a festival and an entertainment festival unfolds.”
McCall added that the performers and ISCO officers also get the credit for making the festival happen.
According to McCall, most of the performers are not music students. The ISCO officers do the auditions and decide who performs.
One of the ISCO officers, Anh Huyhg, a freshman marketing major from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, said organizing the festival helped her learn about different cultures.
“When we were gathering the recipes for the menu, we could talk to many different people and we get to know about their food, their culture, about how they cook them and how they eat them,” she said.
During the festival, Huyhg was a curtain person and had a different experience of the festival that the rest of the audience.
“I mean anything can go wrong in the backstage,” she said. “You know, when the performers are not ready or we lack some mic or we lack the chairs, we need to bring it immediately for them because when the show is on, then it’s on.
“It’s like a train, you can’t stop it – you have to let everything happen.”
When the festival is over, many students and university officials stay to take pictures and chat.
“It’s the aftermath of the festival that’s the best,” McCall said. “This year, one faculty member came up to me and said that this was the most hopeful thing that he’s seen on campus in a long time, and he wasn’t saying that because he feels hope-less about the campus, but just that, he said, this is what we need more of.”