The International Folk Dance Ensemble will kick off the Christmas season with their production of “Christmas Around the World.” This year, the folk dancers will be joined by dancers from the Minzu University of China (MUC) in a collaborative dance work titled ‘Encounter.”
“‘Christmas Around the World’ is the longest-running Christmas production on campus,” said artistic director Jeanette Geslison. “We’ve done this concert for over 50 years but this is the first time we’ve ever brought in a group from outside the US to perform with us. It’s a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Geslison said the 150 students performing in “Christmas Around the World” are what brings the production to life. The 28 members in the main touring ensemble will join five BYU folk dance ensembles and 20 MUC dancers. Parts of the performance will showcase live music performed by BYU’s Folk Music Ensemble, Mountain Strings, and five musicians from China. The Minzu students will also perform three pieces of their own.
In addition to the students collaborating, Geslison said “Christmas Around the World” is a wonderful opportunity to collaborate across the board in the College of Fine Arts and Communications with lighting crews, costume designers, technical crews and other faculty members. She shared that she and Teresa Love from the Department of Theatre and Media Arts worked on creating the content and script of the show.
“It really is a wonderful way to collaborate across disciplines,” said Geslison. “It is a remarkable opportunity for faculty and students to unite and work together for the same cause, to see the magic happen as we turn the Marriott Center basketball court into a stage, which is unbelievable in itself.”
Mary Beth Johnson, a member of IFDE and a dance major, said she has loved learning and rehearsing the dances for “Christmas Around the World.” She shared how it is always an exciting time of year when all the dances start to come together and more time is spent on polishing and perfecting. The dancers begin rehearsing in mid-August and work on the production up until December.
“‘Christmas Around the World’ is such a joyful show,” said Johnson. “You won’t find a show with this much history and diversity anywhere in America, as we perform dances from all around the world. This show provides a unique richness of culture and love as BYU students perform dances from Ireland, Hungary, Canada, India, America, China and so on. BYU is the only university in America that has a program like this. Not only does this show open people’s eyes to culture but it is a time for us to express our light of Christ through performing.”
Johnson said the most challenging part of this production is staying true to the styling of each dance and country. Audiences may not notice the difference between American clog and French-Canadian step dance, but the dancers strive to represent the cultures as accurately as possible.
“Every time we learn a new dance from a different country we are pushed out of our comfort zone as each country has a different aesthetic,” said Johnson. “This year we learned a new Bollywood Indian dance called ‘Discowale.’ This dance was so much fun to learn. I think working with the choreographers on this production was an exciting time for the whole team. The dance story is a love triangle with the girl choosing between a very quirky boy and a smooth dashing man. I loved watching all the men on our team audition for these very different roles. You could really see everyone’s personality come out through the movement as they jumped into the different characters.”
Johnathan Liporada, an IFDE member and dancer, said he has had an amazing experience preparing for “Christmas Around the World.” “I am lucky to be able to rehearse with some of my closest friends and also be a TA for one of the other teams that will be performing in the show,” said Liporada. “I love seeing the time and effort people are putting into getting ready for the show. A lot of us have classes together outside of rehearsal, and it’s fun seeing everyone practice steps in other classes.”
Liporada believes that people should come see the show because it is not an everyday occurrence that someone gets to see world dances of this caliber in Utah County. All the months spent rehearsing will be evident during the performance.
“This show allows people to connect to other cultures in a unique way,” said Liporada. “As dancers, we get a sense of what these people are like by performing their dances, and those who watch the show will also get a feel of that because every dance is different. There really is not another show like this. It is a chance for people to see dances from over ten countries. It really is fun for the whole family.”
Geslison agreed. She said, “We live side-by-side with different cultures. Nowadays it’s even more important to understand and gain appreciation for the differences and similarities that we can celebrate as individual cultures. That’s the meaning behind our choreographic work, ‘Encounter.’ Our dance styles look very different, but in human form, we have a lot of things in common.”
“Christmas Around the Around” is partnering with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Christmas initiative, “Light the World”. Before the performance and during intermission, there will be interactive activities in the concourse of the Marriott Center.
Attendees will have the opportunity to meet and take photos with the performers in their traditional costumes, watch and participate in cultural activities such as Chinese yo-yos and Filipino Tinikling poles, and watch and perform in dance demonstrations.
Geslison encourages audience members to arrive before the show begins to take part in these activities which will also include vendors and Christmas music provided by Mountain Strings throughout concourse.