Thomas Gu

Suwetha Amsavelu, member of the dance team Nach Baliye, performs during the Texas Revue talent show at the Hogg Auditorium on Saturday evening. Nach Baliye took home the “Best Overall” award of $1,500, while Thomas Gu was awarded the technical excellence aware of $750.

Photo Credit: Jenna VonHofe | Daily Texan Staff

Hula hooping, beat boxing and Indian classical dance were only a few of the acts performed Saturday in the Hogg Auditorium at the Texas Revue, the University’s annual talent show that was attended by more than 1,000 students. 

This year Nach Baliye, a coed fusion dance team that performs Bollywood dancing, took home the “Best Overall” award of $1,500. Thomas Gu, mathematics senior who practices the art of Chinese yoyoing, or “diabolo,” won the technical excellence award of $750 for the second year in a row. 

Gu said he was not expecting to win, especially since he messed up during his performance when one of his yoyos rolled off stage. 

“Even when I mess up, the crowd is still super into it,” Gu said. “At this point, that’s the whole reason why I keep [performing]. I love the crowd.”

Kelly Hogg, chair of Texas Traditions, the committee that plans Texas Revue, said it is common to see similar acts perform and even win year after year, but their domination does not last forever. 

“[Gu winning] just proves to me that he has that true level of talent that other acts haven’t quite reached yet,” said Hogg, marketing and business honors senior. “And he is a graduating senior, so that definitely opens the floor up next year for someone.”

Hogg said, even though the audience may not have noticed any changes, the planning stage for this year’s Texas Revue was completely different from previous years. According to Hogg, this is the first year Texas Traditions has planned the talent show. 

“Last year, there was one committee where all they did was plan this event all year long,” Hogg said. “This year we had one committee, [Texas Traditions], planning three events including 40 Acres Fest. It was 15 of us planning these two giant events, while still trying to make our way as a committee and figuring out how we were going to operate.”

Neha Srivastava, finance and business honors senior and event coordinator for Texas Revue, said some ideas the committee came up with while planning the show involved making it more of a red carpet event. Texas Traditions passed out bow ties and pearls at the entrance to the auditorium and had GigglePants improv troupe members emcee the show to create more audience interaction. 

“[We tried] to take it from a different approach: from it simply being a talent show to trying to engage the audience and bring them in,” Srivastava said. “[We wanted to] make them be part of the entire show as well.”

Members of PUNJABBAWOCKEEZ celebrate on stage after winning first place in the Texas Revue at Hogg Memorial Auditorium on Saturday night.

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

Chinese yo-yos, dancing, electronic violins and band performances drew a full crowd at Hogg Auditorium this Saturday, as more than 1,200 people came to Texas Revue, the University’s annual talent show.

Courtney Brindle, supply chain, business honors and communication studies senior and chairwoman for the event, said the show went well.

“We pride ourselves on being the most diverse, on being a representation of what UT really is,” Brindle said. 

The show, which featured 11 acts, awarded two prizes, one for best technical performance, and one for best overall performance. Mathematics senior Thomas Gu, who performed with Chinese yo-yos, won the award for best technical performance. Punjabbawockeez, an all-male dance group in its third year, won the award best overall performance for its combination of hip-hop and traditional Bhangra music. An outside panel of experts from the local Austin community judged all participants.

Arpan Amin, a management information systems senior and member of Punjabbawockeez, said his group was happy to entertain the audience at Texas Revue. The group, which is only three years old, is open to tryouts from people with any level of experience, and he said its primary purpose is enjoyment. 

Amin said the choreography of his group changes slightly from performance to performance and is arranged organically with contributions from all its members.

“A huge part of what we are is entertainment value,” Amin said. “Placing is a far second to us.”

Gu, who has practiced his art since eighth grade, said he too was focused on entertainment value this time around, which marked a shift from his more professional performance at Texas Revue last year.

“I knew what I was doing for the most part,” Gu said. “[But at times I did] whatever I thought would make the crowd go crazy at the time.”

Gu said aside from when he had a shoulder injury, he practices about two to three hours a day.

The Student Events Center, Texas Union and Texas Parents Association sponsored the show. Usually the University Co-op funds the event but did not do so because of budget constraints.

Heather Dai, public relations junior and publicity co-chairwoman for Texas Revue, said she hoped students who came enjoyed seeing the diversity of talents and ideas UT students have. 

Dai said while losing Co-op funding was initially a budget problem, it did allow Texas Revue more freedom to brand themselves. In the past, performances had to be approved by the Co-op.

“Last year we had a pole acrobatic dancer ... but if you saw her perform it was in the most tasteful way,” Dai said. “Our chair just wasn’t comfortable with [taking her to the Co-op].”

Additionally, she said, she hoped Texas Revue was doing a better job of separating its image in students’ minds from that of the stereotypical talent show.

“I wanted [students] just to enjoy themselves and also realize that Texas Revue is just this amazing show,” Dai said.

Dai said watching the show as a freshman inspired her to become involved in promoting it as a member of the publicity committee.

“It’s just hard to convey,” Dai said. “Our main obstacle is trying to overcome people’s previous idea of a talent show.”

Thomas Gu, a mathematics sophomore and Chinese yo-yo artist, teaches the practice at The Love of China School of Dance and practices two or three hours a day. Gu said he sees Chinese yo-yo as an avenue into Chinese culture for children.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

All you hear is the whirring of the yo-yo as it’s looped through the air, held aloft only by two wooden sticks, a string that connects them and the patience of Thomas Gu. With a relaxed tension in his wrists, he keeps the yo-yo continuously in motion: over his head, between his legs and around his body while remaining centered.

“In Taiwan, this is a sport. They actually compete in this,” said Gu, a mathematics sophomore and Chinese yo-yo artist. “I practice two to three hours a day. That’s why I have these ridiculous blisters on my fingers.”

Gu found the artistic sport at his Chinese summer school when he was only an eighth grader and hasn’t stopped playing since.

It wasn’t until ninth grade that he began performing, and not until last year that he took it more seriously when he realized it could be more than just a hobby. At the beginning of last year, he went around asking to perform at organizations tabling on the West Mall, culminating in a spot in the Texas Revue and other performance opportunities in the Austin community.

“I decided I had to be real with it if I actually wanted a chance with it,” Gu said as he continued to yo-yo.

Originally, the yo-yo was disc-shaped and made out of bamboo, an inconvenience for modern tricks, and has since evolved into a bowl shape.

These newer yo-yos are made with plastic for added durability, although the sticks are still made of the traditional wood. Chinese yo-yo drastically differs from the Western version, as the yo-yo is kept spinning on a string tied to the end of two sticks, each held in one hand.

“You get used to the motions, to the shuffling [of the yo-yo] between the strings,” Gu said as the yo-yo was tossed from left to right. “Because these [yo-yo’s] can’t just stay idle.”

Instead, the yo-yo must be constantly in motion to keep the tricks fluid, but this can be a challenge since each yo-yo is made differently. Some are designed with more friction and have more grip, while others enable the yo-yo to gain speed and are relatively quiet through the air. The various designs enable Gu to perform different tricks depending on the yo-yo he’s using at the time and lend themselves to completely different performances.

“Performing is nerve-racking,” Gu said. “Sometimes the nerves make you not want to do a hard trick, but I’ve learned to always try it anyway.”

The more difficult tricks come with risk; Gu says that he almost always drops his yo-yo’s in his performances but that is even more of an incentive for him to work at his more challenging tricks. He likes his performances to be controlled but interesting to watch and believes it’s the job of the yo-yo artist to come up with his own tricks.

“A lot of the tricks you come up with are actually already tricks, you just don’t know it yet,” Gu said.

He performs his tricks choreographed to instrumental music, often using Vanessa-Mae, a violinist with techno beats. The upbeat tempo keeps the crowd engaged and helps his choreography flow more naturally. With his hardest tricks saved for last, Gu keeps everyone guessing.

“The whole point is to come up with your own style,” Gu said. “Everyone can do the same tricks, it’s the tricks you choose to perform and the way you perform them that make you unique.”

After learning how to add his own style to yo-yo, he went back to the basics when he began teaching at The Love of China School of Dance last year.

Director Emily Dedear already had a Chinese yo-yo group training at her school when she hired Gu to assist classes, but over the last six months, she has been continually impressed with his patience and his ability to teach students to make tricks their own.

“It makes us very proud of ourselves. For us, it’s part of our culture,” Dedear said. “We want to keep it alive.”

Dedear mentioned the use of yo-yo in street performances as an important element to Chinese entertainment. Gu made similar comments but also sees Chinese yo-yo as an avenue into Chinese culture for younger children. He began teaching classes to show children the importance of Chinese heritage, and as an aspiring math teacher, puts emphasis on the formulas and basics behind the techniques.

“I want my students to understand the greater concepts. You can fix your mess-ups if you know what you’re doing wrong, but if you can’t apply it, you’re not really learning anything,” Gu said.

For Gu, the teaching came naturally since he has spent most of his five-year yo-yo career watching professional performances and YouTube videos to teach himself. But even after years of practice, he’s still learning more tricks to add to his arsenal, never easing up and always seeking to impress his audience.

“When you do the tricks you go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I can do this,’” Gu said.

“It just started out as a hobby; I never expected to become a performer.”