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China, Central and Latin America, Nauvoo destinations for BYU performance tours

Every year, students who are a part of select performing arts groups from BYU’s School of Music and Department of Dance have the incredible opportunity to travel abroad and share their talents with the world as well as spread values that represent BYU.

This past summer included international traveling for singers and dancers from Young Ambassadors, Living Legends, Ballroom Dance Company, and the jazz sound of Synthesis. Vocal Point and the International Folk Dance Ensemble were able to perform and give community outreach presentations in Nauvoo, Ill., something BYU groups have been able to do regularly in recent summers.

The Young Ambassadors were the first group to depart this summer, bound for China, starting in the country’s capital, Beijing for the “Meet in Beijing” dance festival and a university exchange, and worked their way south to Hong Kong.

This is the eighth visit to China for the Young Ambassadors, so they were able to strengthen the ties that BYU has with many of the performing arts centers and universities there. As always, the group was received with extreme enthusiasm, and crowds particularly loved that the group took the time to learn and sing some popular Chinese songs.

In Jinan, the Young Ambassadors performed for thousands of families and students, as well as TV cameras — throughout the trip, the group received a lot of positive media attention, and directors and cast members were interviewed multiple times on television.  

As the group arrived in Xi’an, former capital of China, they were welcomed by Sheldon Poon, who had hosted the Young Ambassadors on the monumental first tour in China 34 years previous.

The Young Ambassadors were able to perform for and interact with the people at the Hong Society Lai Yiu Adult Training Center during an outreach, which is a center that accommodates adults with special needs. They also did an outreach with the Xi’an Kung Fu School, where Chinese children go through intensive Kung Fu training. They taught the Young Ambassadors some basic moves.

Completing the tour with sold-out shows in Hong Kong, director Randy Boothe said of the experience, “How do you sum up the rich experiences of the past three weeks in China — life-changing, heart-warming, full of surprises? This year’s Young Ambassador tour was all that and much more.”

 • In May 2013, Living Legends traveled and performed in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The group performs beautiful song and dance numbers from and influenced by Native and Latin American and Polynesian cultures, with its members descending from those ethnic groups — more than two-thirds of the group speaks Spanish.

Artistic Director Janielle Christensen said, “Taking the Living Legends’ Seasons show to Central America and to the descendants of the people and lands of the Book of Mormon was for audiences and the members of Living Legends alike a particularly tender, powerful and inspirational experience.”

The group had 11 performances in six cities, performing for nearly 14,000 people; three of those performances were in the National Theatre in Guatemala City. The group members had significant and memorable experiences interacting with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there, having the occasion to perform at four packed firesides (several of which had over a thousand attendees).

In Quetzaltenango, they received a special tour of the temple from the temple president, who later stated that the work they were doing would lead to baptisms and to temple sealings. Everywhere the group went, they were well received, and the Spirit’s presence and influence was obvious.  

The students participated in four outreaches, visiting two children’s hospitals and two schools that facilitate children with disabilities. At FUNDAL, a facility for deaf and blind children, the group had the chance to perform and interact with the children, and group members reported that the spirit was very strong during this experience.

• BYU’s jazz ensemble Synthesis — recently named winner of the jazz “College of the Year” award from DownBeat magazine — took their music to Brazil to participate in several Latin jazz festivals, as well as doing other local performances and workshops.

While the group has participated in jazz festivals previously, this is the first time they have brought the American big-band sound they are famous for to South America. The group participated in two prestigious events: the Santa Teresa Jazz Festival on the coast of Brazil, and the Rio das Ostras Jazz Festival.

At the Santa Teresa festival, Synthesis jammed alongside well-known and talented Latin Jazz performers, with a prime time slot. At their second festival, they performed several times; once they had at least 40,000 people listening to them play.

Nearly every single event the group hosted, whether it was a fireside or a local performance, was either sold out or in some cases over capacity.

“Audience members are very warm and loving and always express their heartfelt-appreciation for each concert," said Artistic Director Ray Smith. "“They often wanted photos with the performers and autographs whether it’s on their shirts, backs or programs.”

Members of Synthesis were impressed by the love of jazz that they saw in Brazil and were grateful for the chance to share their music there.

• The Ballroom Dance Company returned to England to participate in the Blackpool Dance Festival, the most prestigious ballroom competition in the world. Every third year, BYU attends this open-to-the-world event and has always been the team to beat. This year was no exception: both the modern formation and Latin formation teams took first place.

The Ballroom Dance Company had teamed up with BYU engineers to create special dresses lined with LED lights for the standard formation number. The lights flashed and changed color in time with the movements of the dancers, making the number especially impressive to see for the audience.

After the music stopped, they received a standing ovation, which is unprecedented at a Blackpool formation competition.

One official at the competition said, “I’ve never seen anything like it. Leave it up to the Americans to do something like this!” The innovative number created significant press for the group in England and at BYU.

In addition to Blackpool, the Ballroom Dance Company also performed in Sheffield and London, England, and then traveled and performed in Germany and Switzerland, visiting seven additional cities.

After the performance in Sheffield, the stake president communicated, “The dance quality was world class. I have also started to hear of missionary referrals that have arisen from some who have attended the show.”

An especially memorable performance was in Hamm, Germany where the group’s organizers raised 75,000 euros for donation to two hospice-charities active in the area. It was reported to be “a huge success in every way,” and was attended by the mayor and many civic leaders.

• Last to leave in the summer, the International Folk Dance Ensemble and Vocal Point both went to Nauvoo where the emphasis was on performances and outreach activities.

The a cappella group Vocal Point, of NBC Sing-Off fame, had an incredible time on their tour. The group did nightly shows on the outdoor stage in Nauvoo that were well-attended and well-received. People traveled hours to see the group sing.

They performed at nursing homes, firesides, and a special outreach in Hannibal, MO, as well as seeing symbolic LDS Church sites, including the Nauvoo temple.

Despite poor weather, not a single show or outreach was cancelled while Vocal Point was in Nauvoo and its surrounding areas. The group received one particularly special honor by being invited to sing at a special commemoration of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, sung in front of Carthage Jail. A special arrangement of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” was created for the occasion.

Everywhere the students went, they made personal connections with the people around them. At one outreach that was located at a museum, the curator said, “You can sing whatever you want, for as long as you want. I trust you guys completely.”

The International Folk Dance Ensemble’s trip to Nauvoo mirrored Vocal Points in most ways: they visited Church sites, performed and put on local outreaches.

On their way in to Nauvoo they performed first in O’Fallon, MO, which is the home town of one of the group members. The reception was beyond enthusiastic, and the audience members heaped praise on the group. Later, they performed in a fireside for the O’Fallon stake.

A counselor from the YSA branch that the group had attended commented, “The group’s behavior left a wholesome impression on the community. Not only was the performance wholesome, but the students’ behavior was wholesome.”

The group performed 12 times in the Nauvoo area, not including firesides and outreaches. They had two different concert set-lists that they put on throughout this period, and many people, after seeing one of them, returned to see the second set.      

Director Jeanette Geslison said, “It is apparent that the students’ testimonies have grown so much because of this tour. They have grown not only as a result of attending the temple, but by also visiting the historic sites here.”

For more information on the BYU touring ensembles, contact Ed Blaser, Performing Arts Management, (801) 422-3573.




Writer: Performing Arts Mangement

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