About 150 supporters of the nonprofit arts organization Portland Ovations enjoyed POP Global Passport, an eclectic multicultural fundraiser April 14 at O’Maine Studios on Danforth Street. It was a night of international food, music and dance – and not just watching dance. Afro Beats dance instructor Veeva Banga got the sold-out crowd grooving with some simple moves.

“In one night, this is everything that Portland Ovations is – our creative community, art, being together and celebrating the power of live performance,” said executive and artistic director Aimee Petrin. “We are not a passive organization. We’re about live performance, being in the moment and being part of the moment.”

The evening started with a cooking demonstration and cocktail party, followed by an international buffet featuring favorites from local restaurants and caterers, including Salvadoran from Flores, Indian from Mumbai to Maine, Ethiopian from Niyat Catering, Chinese from Sichuan Kitchen, Jamaican from Yardie Ting, and Azerbaijani from Chef Zema Ahmadov.

“If you can relate to the flavors, rhythms and culture, art is a bridge to understanding immigrants’ experience,” said spoken word poet Nyamuon “Moon” Nguany Machar, who emigrated from South Sudan as a child. “That’s what tonight brought – flavor, rhythm and culture.”

Featured performers included world-renowned Azerbajjani pianist Emil Afrasiyab, with his unique blend of jazz, classical and Azerbaijani folk music, and his wife, vocalist Leyla Afrasiyab.

As Portland Ovations’ first in-person fundraiser since the pandemic, the event was a reunion with a genuine party vibe.

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“A lot of people in this room haven’t seen each other in two years,” said Casey Oakes, director of marketing and development. “To be able to be back and support live performing arts is amazing.”

Amid all that fun, the nonprofit reached its financial goals. Portland Ovations curates and presents a range of performances across genres, traditions, production scales and venues, with an emphasis on performances for Maine students, including young children who receive complementary books.

In the coming weeks, Portland Ovations presents folk artist Samuel James (Thursday, Brick South Beer Garden at Thompson’s Point), Little House Dance (May 18-20, Mechanics’ Hall), Blue Man Group (May 23, Cross Insurance Arena) and a Broadway National Tour performance of “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” (June 5, Merrill Auditorium).

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]

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