Duke Arts Block Party: Sights and sounds in retrospect

Duke Arts Presents hosted its annual block party Sept. 5, highlighting its rebrand from Duke Performances and kicking off Arts Week at Duke. As part of Duke’s series of 2023 Welcome Weeks, the week of Sept. 3–9 was designated to exhibit a variety of Duke student art groups and local artists. 

Before the event started, Duke Arts Presents hosted a teaser at Bryan Center Plaza to give a preview of what was to come later that evening. There, special guest Dr. Ken Jeong (Trinity '90) collaborated with three campus comedy groups: Duke University Improv, Inside Joke and Duke University Stand-up Troupe. The resulting comedy show touched on everything from translation improv to skits and even audience jokes, before capping off with an all-group (and Ken Jeong) improv featuring “World’s Worst”-themed skits. 

The main event took place at the Rubenstein Arts Center. Upon arrival, guests could stay outside to hear a number of local artists perform, head indoors for refreshments, learn more about several performing arts groups at Duke or check out arts-themed activities. A stage was set up outside for performances and a number of food trucks were parked nearby for hungry attendees. Local artists played soothing indie in the background as students and faculty entered. Inside the Rubenstein Arts Center were a Duke-themed photo booth, a canvas painting station, stalls with Day of the Dead coloring books, a t-shirt screen-printing station and recruitment stands for various choir groups and the Innovation Co-Lab. 

Jeong served as the event's emcee, opening with some jokes before talking about his wish for the arts at Duke to expand. He also spoke about the role that Duke played in his career, revealing he discovered his interest in acting and comedy after taking Acting 101 his freshman year. Following his remarks, Jeong welcomed the first act of the night, Hoof 'n' Horn, which started the party off by performing "Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)" from Mamma Mia and "Meet the Plastics" from Mean Girls. Their passionate singing and energetic dancing set the mood for the evening.

Duke Chorale performed the pieces Frobisher Bay and More Waters Rising, filling the sunset-painted street with angelic voices. Following that performance, Jeong interacted with the crowd and chatted with a number of Duke undergrads. Then Rhythm & Blue, Duke University's oldest co-ed a cappella group, performed “Disturbia” with Rena Ouyang as the soloist and Benji Gourdji as the vocal percussionist. Their wonderful rendition of Disturbia incorporated dancing along with their singing, combining visual and audio appeal. This performance beautifully contrasted with the Student Chamber Arts performance that followed, as well as the preview of "Giovanni’s Room", a contemporary ballet adaptation. The great variety of performances instilled a kaleidoscope of emotions into the audience, and overall, the atmosphere and energy of this party was bustling and inviting.

As the night came to a close, the Birdmen–a group of Dutch performers wearing 16-foot-tall white bird costumes–arrived to give a brief performance, complete with sound effects. The crowd was in awe seeing these creatures tread amongst them. Jeong entertained the crowd as he interacted with the Birdmen, continuing to garner laughs. The final act of the night was local artist Sonny Miles, who performed a number of pieces of smooth jazz while accompanied by a wonderful band–a perfect way to end a perfect night. 

Arnav Jindal | Culture Editor

Arnav Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and culture editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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