Living Legends, Brigham Young University's multicultural performance troupe, found that its fourth tour to Alaska proved to be one if its most successful, selling out venues and performing for more than 4,800 audience members.
The Alaska Federation of Natives gave Living Legends the distinct honor of asking the group to perform twice at its conference “Village Survival!” Living Legends gave the closing performances at the Youth and Elder Convention and at the conference’s close on Oct 23. This is Living Legends’ second appearance at the AFN conference following their first performance in 2006.
But going on tour with Living Legends is no Alaskan vacation. Tthe group left BYU at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19, arrived in Anchorage at 12:32 a.m. and immediately boarded a bus for a seven-hour, 364-mile drive to Fairbanks. After 18 hours of travel, Living Legends gave their first performance at noon for the Youth and Elders Convention at the AFN conference.
As Janielle Christensen, Living Legends’ artistic director, said, “It is sobering to think that the youth and elders were discussing things as important as the survival of their villages and culture. The elders place a great amount of faith and confidence in the youth’s future, so we felt it was a great honor to share our cultures with them.”
Stephanie Thompson, an AFN board member, said of Living Legend’s performance at the Youth and Elder Convention, “[Audience members] told me that they had in their minds how great it would be, but it was much better than they had imagined.” Thompson received several reports after the conference from all types of audience members, including government officials and AFN sponsors, who all said, “This was so worth it!”
AFN broadcast the closing performance across Alaska, which boasted 1,000 attendees including several Alaskan congressmen and head of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs Larry Echo Hawk, the conference’s keynote speaker, who requested to meet with Living Legends and spoke with the group for over an hour.
“It was a powerful example to the students in the group to meet someone who was the fulfillment and epitome of the theme song, ‘Go, My Son,’ about going out into the world as an example of your culture, while lifting up others around you,” said Christensen.
Echo Hawk made a special trip to the AFN conference from Washington, D.C., and came to as many Living Legends performances as his schedule would allow, even making a special visit to the performance at Lathrop High School in order to see a sold-out performance. He said of Living Legends’ shows, “I’m home. I needed that.”
According to Ed Blaser, tour director, “Every one of the 42 students worked hard to make each performance successful. Living Legends equipment and truck were ferried up, so we had all five tons of gear to load and unload for each performance. A lot was expected from many [performers], some of whom have only been in the group for six weeks, and they measured up so well.”
Stephanie Thompson said that, though the performance is spectacular, the AFN wanted Living Legends back for more than just a show. “A lot of the youth are pretty isolated, and they need hope. Our youth find role models in these performers when they see the performers take pride in their people and their heritage. And our youth aren’t the only ones affected — even adults really make a connection and see that they are part of a larger native world. One lady said to me during the show, ‘This is touching my heart.’”
Living Legends performed at two other broadcast events and filled more venues to the brim. Other performances included an audience of 1,300 elementary students; a sold-out show to 1,250 at Fairbanks’ Lathrop High School; a televised show broadcasted to 275 villages followed by an on-air interview after the performance; and a free performance of sacred music broadcast to surrounding communities on Sunday, Oct. 24, with 600 attendees.
Living Legends also performed for an audience of 380 in Nenana, Alaska, population 300. In Nenana, the group was able to inspire at-risk students through more than just dance. The high school’s principal requested that one of the performers speak specifically to the students in attendance on the value not only of education, but of each person.In a student body of 200, 75 students reside in dormitories in order to stay away from the drugs and other harmful aspects of their villages.
BYU student-performer Jerad Todacheenie, dressed in his full chief regalia, told a story of a young man he once knew who grew up in a village where suicide, alcohol and drugs were prevalent. He decided to leave in order to gain an education and progress in life. “That young man was me,” Todacheenie said to the students. “And I said it was someone I used to know because I am no longer that young man—I have changed, and I made the decision to find a better situation so that I could achieve my goals.”
At the end of the show, as many as five students embraced Todacheenie and said, “I am you. This is also my story. Thank you.”
Living Legends combines dynamic choreography of native American choreographies with the color and vitality of the dances of Polynesian and Latin American dances. Performed by talented descendants of these cultures and woven together by traditional and contemporary music, Living Legends' program is a stunning tribute to the ancient cultures of the Americas and the Pacific.
Living Legends has performed throughout the United States and in more than 45 foreign countries. Featured on national TV in China, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, it represented the United States at the 1992 World's Fair in Seville, Spain and at the 1991 German-American Volksfest in Berlin.
For more information, contact Performing Arts Management at (801) 422-3576.