From Instagram to Illinois
The historic town of Nauvoo, Illinois, is about to be reawakened by pop songs, international dances, and almost 70 BYU performers from Folk Dance Ensemble, Noteworthy, and Vocal Point. Each group will spend two weeks as Nauvoo’s featured entertainment during the summer, each preparing two different shows to entertain repeat audience members. The fast-paced, two-week performance schedule will keep the three groups very busy. From June 6 through 19, BYU Folk Dance Ensemble will have the opportunity to be on home turf, after having toured to Croatia and Spain during summer 2015. When touring abroad, Folk Dance Ensemble typically focuses on representing American culture to international audiences, but this summer’s performances in Nauvoo will allow the dancers to present other cultures to American audiences. Additionally, the team will get to learn about Nauvoo’s significance in American pioneer history. Seventh-semester member Tanner Long is excited to be a tourist. “We’ll get to develop a deeper appreciation for our own culture as well as the cultures we represent,” he says. Nine-woman a cappella group Noteworthy, in only its second season as an official BYU performing group, will be visiting Nauvoo from June 20 to July 3. “Nauvoo will open us up for more opportunities,” says Janae Klumpp, Noteworthy member since 2013. “Typically we spend most of our time traveling; we quickly set up and perform, and then we have to leave. But this time we’ll have more opportunities to perform and interact with people.” No stranger to being main-stage entertainment, Vocal Point will return to Nauvoo from August 1 to 14 for the fifth time in 10 years of touring. Previous tours to Nauvoo included two weeks of nightly performances, outreach programs in neighboring states, and even performances in unique venues such as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where the curator told the group, “You can sing whatever you want for as long as you want.” Fame Onstage and Online Coincidentally, the three BYU groups going to Nauvoo this summer are also the groups gaining the most attention for their recent social media efforts. Each group is active on multiple social media platforms and increases its fan base by posting videos and pictures and interacting with fans. Vocal Point boasts more than 100,000 subscribers on YouTube, more than 80,000 likes on Facebook, and almost 18,000 followers on Twitter and Instagram combined. First-year Vocal Point member Logan Shelton says everyone in the group collaborates to maintain the social media accounts. “We give feedback to each other before we post,” he says, “and we share special comments from the fans with each other so everyone can see them. It’s so rewarding to read the comments. We perform a lot, and people tell us, ‘Good job!’ but the fans’ comments are personal—things like ‘You really helped me through a hard time’ or that our video turned their whole day around.” Noteworthy’s “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” music video has more than 7 million views since its release in October 2015. Members of the group knew that increasing the quality and quantity of their music videos would garner attention, but they never expected a video to go viral. “We wanted people to be excited, but we had no idea it would blow up like that,” says Klumpp. “All of our other videos are doing well because of that—they’ve practically doubled in views just because of that one video.” Folk Dance Ensemble is the newest group to hit the social media scene, attracting hundreds of new followers with the release of “Nagada Nagada Bollywood Dance” on YouTube. This video was the first professional music video Folk Dance Ensemble ever released. Before “Nagada,” they had put only small snippets of their dances or funny skits on the group’s YouTube channel. “[The first videos] were just for us,” says Long, a member of Folk Dance’s social media committee, “but I knew it could lead to something.” Long and the rest of his committee—Cameron King, Orion Howard, and James Skidmore—see the success of groups like Vocal Point and Noteworthy on social media and want to implement more social media usage among folk dancers, alumni, and fans. They recently started encouraging people to use the hashtag #BYUFolkDance to link photos and videos shared on platforms like Instagram and Facebook. Long asks, “Who will understand who we are and what we do until they’ve seen it?”
International Folk Dance Ensemble
Fusing Music and Culture
A wish will be granted when Synthesis returns to Finland this summer. “We would like to see you here again in the future,” said Hilkka Oksi, a public relations coordinator in Tampere, Finland, after Synthesis’s last tour there in 1998. “The performance with Dr. Ray Smith as a conductor was a memorable treat for all people who had a chance to hear it.” This summer, from July 7 to August 1, Synthesis will go on tour to Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Sweden. Under Smith’s direction, Synthesis has toured across the globe to destinations such as Romania, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Japan, China, Italy, Spain, Scotland, and, most recently, Brazil. Past tours have provided Synthesis the opportunity to perform in world-renowned festivals and venues for audiences of as many as 20,000 people. “There will be similar elements [to past tours], but the culture will be very different and new,” says Abigail Castleton, a trumpeter in her fifth semester with Synthesis. During this summer’s tour to Scandinavia and the Baltics, Synthesis will perform at festivals, local events for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and even a black-tie gala. Each tour provides Synthesis with new challenges for its members and a different direction for its repertoire. “When we went to Brazil, we found out they love to dance, and so we picked our music based on what they could dance to,” says Castleton. “When we go to Scandinavia, we’ll have to pick new music that they are familiar with and like.” Synthesis performances are unusual because there is no set repertoire. Instead, the group tries to cater to each specific audience’s tastes and interests by preparing as many as 100 songs for the tour and then playing about 30—and they even take song requests from the audience. “We do a broad spectrum of things,” says Castleton. “Depending on how people respond, we may continue with a certain set of songs; but if we think they don’t like it, then we’ll change it up.” One Synthesis song, written by trumpeter and third-year member Dallas Crane, is likely to be well received by the audiences in Finland. Called “Kuusi Palaa,” the Finnish piece premiered in Synthesis’s December 2015 concert, and Crane wrote it specifically for the upcoming tour. “I want it to be a mutually elevating experience,” he says. “I used elements of our culture and combined it with elements they will understand.” Crane, who has Finnish roots, used elements of a traditional polska dance along with elements of American jazz to fuse American and Finnish cultures together. “The polska has a lot in common with the jazz used in American synthesis,” he says. “It’s a common ground. Jazz guys will hear the jazz, and the Finnish will hear the polska.” A personal invitation from an international Synthesis fan will add a stop at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in Latvia to the group’s tour. Raimonds Kalniņš, the director of the festival, met Smith while performing in the United States at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in 1991. Twenty-five years later, the two accomplished directors will meet again at the weeklong festival and educational camp for young musicians. For Synthesis members, rubbing shoulders with some of the most accomplished jazz musicians in Europe between performances on the festival’s main stage will make this part of the tour a truly unforgettable experience. Synthesis will also play in Stockholm at Festinord, a weeklong event held each year for Latter-Day Saint young single adults from all over Europe. This opportunity will give the students of Synthesis the chance to interact with Church members their own age. Synthesis will be the featured performing group for the Festinord Gala Night—a formal event that will be held in the Blue Hall of Stockholm City Hall, the famous venue that hosts the Nobel Banquet. Their music selection for that evening will highlight the tasteful atmosphere and contribute to a fun night of dancing and mingling. Perhaps the most meaningful performances for the group will be their devotionals in Tallinn, Estonia; Vilnius, Lithuania; and Stockholm, Sweden. In these settings Synthesis members will turn to their spiritual repertoire and share religious testimony with the audiences. These experiences will allow the musicians to connect with people on a deeper and more personal level by sharing something even more important to them than their music: their faith.
Spreading Life, Laughter, and Love
The Young Ambassadors theme for the year, “Live, Laugh, Love,” has prompted group members to prepare for their spring tour to South Africa and Zimbabwe by promoting this concept on campus and during rehearsals. “The group is not just focused on entertainment—that’s only one part,” says Young Ambassadors member Jacob Brown. “We try to walk the walk.” According to Brown, group members have tried to constantly ask themselves, “How can we live, laugh, and love during this year so we can prepare for our trip?” For the third time in the group’s 46 years of touring, Young Ambassadors will journey to South Africa to perform, serve, and learn. From April 23 to May 13 this year, they will travel to Durban, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, and Pretoria as well as Bulawayo and Harare in Zimbabwe, where they will give 13 performances and participate in several outreach and service activities. From exchanges with local university students to a visit to an elephant sanctuary, members of Young Ambassadors will be able to experience an unfamiliar culture while sharing their universal message of love. Members of Young Ambassadors have asked alumni what to expect from the tour to South Africa. Those who toured to South Africa in spring 2012 say the trip was a life-changing experience. During the last tour there, Young Ambassadors visited Children of Fire, a home for burn victims, and Rainbow Village, a hospice for orphans and adults affected by HIV/AIDS. During these visits, performers and crew played games, gave out lollipops and books, taught dances, and shared music. “Every touring experience is so unique and helps you understand that all people are in need,” says Tanner DeWaal, Young Ambassadors student president. “We’re human beings, and we all have basic wants. . . . As we’ve gone to places that lack love, we see the world needs more love. That’s what we hope to bring. It gives more hope for the future.” DeWaal, who has been a member of Young Ambassadors for four years, is preparing diligently along with the rest of the group to fully immerse himself in the culture. He says understanding what matters to the people they meet will make the tour a better experience for everyone. “I’m paying attention to things happening in the news and studying . . . so it’s already a part of me when I get there,” he says. “I’ll be able to relate and have a better understanding about what’s going on. Once I get there, I want to be completely invested in the people and not take any moment for granted.” All tour participants—performers, band members, technicians, and directors—will attend a required culture class on the history, politics, people, and culture of South Africa and Zimbabwe. This 12-week class, counted as academic credit for students, will prepare the performers and crew for the experience through the study of books, movies, and local and international news sources. In an effort to learn about the cities the group will travel to, students will research and give presentations to the class on different cities’ art, architecture, social and cultural background, and traditional stories. Once on tour, the students are required to keep a daily journal of the experiences they have and the people they meet, recording their personal experiences as well as referencing cultural and historical elements they studied in class. While on tour, members of Young Ambassadors will have the chance to meet with high-profile members of society. These meetings between performers and community members before performances will encourage a “personal connection to what’s happening on stage,” says DeWaal. These VIPs could also open doors to future opportunities for Young Ambassadors, he says. “The experience of getting to know the people of [South Africa and Zimbabwe] is life changing,” says Young Ambassadors director Randy Boothe. “Our upcoming tour will be a remarkable chance to develop friendships that will last a lifetime.”
New Directors and Shows
A Celebration of Life and Dance Contemporary Dance Theatre (CDT) is finding original ways to express love for life and dance in its new show, Viva! Vibrant colors and uplifting music join with thoughtfully choreographed dances to bring a kaleidoscope of relatable stories to the audience. “We want [a show] that describes all the varieties of circumstances in life—a celebration of life, so to speak,” says CDT director Nathan Balser. “Our show has fun, creative, inventive, and spectacular aspects to it as well as thoughtful and heartfelt moments. We want to respect what Contemporary Dance Theatre does best: investigates, creates, innovates, and explores. We want to do it in a way that is engaging for any audience.” Building a new repertoire takes a considerable amount of time and hard work. Balser used every resource available and focused on the mission of the group. “CDT’s first mission is to educate its students. Part of that education is to expose them to current artists in the field of contemporary dance,” he says. The new show will have choreography from respected professionals in dance, such as Peter Chu, Sara Pearson, and Patrik Widrig. The choreographers who work with the company usually spend 22 to 30 hours building a dance. The students also contributed in creating a few dances alongside Balser. “We explored different ideas and movements and, in the end, that makes the dances more personal for us,” says CDT dancer Benjamin Butters. Contemporary Dance Theatre will take its new show to Utah, Southern California, and Nevada in March 2016. Curt Holman Designs Swing ’n’ Sway Ballroom Dance Company is known worldwide for its highly trained dancers, spectacular shows, and professionalism. From its beginning in 1960, Ballroom Dance Company has been guided by directors who helped build the legacy of the company today. Lee and Linda Wakefield were directors from 1980 unttil their retirement last year, when the group embraced Curt Holman and his wife, Sharon, as the new artistic director and associate artistic director. The Holmans, who both have a master’s degree in dance, met while on the ballroom team at BYU. Since then they have been honored to perform at the prestigious British Open Championships in Blackpool, England, and the World Cabaret Championships in the Netherlands. Curt has worked as a dance professor at BYU since 1993. “My longevity with both BYU and Ballroom Dance Company has given me a needed perspective of the program to carry it on,” he says. This year the company premieres its show Swing ’n’ Sway and will tour in the United Kingdom, where they will also compete at Blackpool. “[Curt Holman] is a master at choreography,” says BYU ballroom dancer Tanner Grenko. “He has a way of telling a story through dance while having it aesthetically pleasing. He has done a fantastic job in changing and enhancing the dances.” Having choreographed many championship routines for U.S. couples, Curt is excited to explore new ways to present Ballroom Dance Company. “I’m looking forward to creating a show that is both artistic and theatric,” he says. “It’ll be a fresh approach to the program.” Leading the Singers BYU Singers recently welcomed a new director, Dr. Andrew Crane, who comes to BYU with an extensive background in conducting students. He was director of choral activities at East Carolina University for four years and at California State University, San Bernardino, for six years before that. He also led the East Carolina University Chamber Singers to finish first place in the 13th International Choral Competition Gallus in Maribor, Slovenia. Dr. Crane graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s in music education in 2000 and a master’s in choral conducting in 2003. He then completed a doctor of musical arts in performance degree from Michigan State University. The experience that Crane had as a student in BYU Singers now helps him direct the group. “Andrew Crane has been a great addition to the staff,” says choir member Gideon Burrows. “He understands musicality and helps us reach a healthy and beautiful tone.” Now an associate professor of choral conducting, Crane feels very fortunate to be working at BYU. “We aim to perform high-quality choral music that can share BYU’s mission to uplift and inspire,” Crane says. “My predecessor, Ronald Staheli, built an amazing legacy. He was well known both nationally and abroad. He reached his audiences with high-level and emotional music, and we want to continue with that.” Crane looks forward to conducting such incredible students. “BYU students have a certain bright intelligence to them,” he says. “It’s inspiring how committed they are to their faith and to everything they do.” In April and May 2016, BYU Singers will tour throughout Arizona.
Contemporary Dance Theatre
Ballroom Dance Company
Roots of the Legends
Living Legends will bring dances of faith, prosperity, war, and harvest to the South Pacific during the group’s 2016 extended tour. A thrill of the tour will be performing in the countries where many of the Living Legends Polynesian dances originate. Additionally, the group will introduce Latin American and Native American folklore to South Pacific audiences. In 1997, Living Legends toured to New Zealand and Samoa, as well as to other nearby countries. From April 25 to May 17 this year, the group will return to these two countries and add Tonga to their itinerary for the first time. “I am excited for the chance to meet the true legends of the islands this summer on tour,” says Living Legends dancer Charles Tu’ua. Through its program Seasons, Living Legends strives to preserve and pay tribute to the cultures it represents. The group performs ethnic music and dances to help pass traditions on to future generations. The presentation inspires audience members to see and appreciate diversity and to recognize how meaningful their own ancestry is. Seasons contains various numbers from the Polynesian islands that tell stories from past generations. “Te Wa o Tumatauenga, He Korero Riri,” a piece from New Zealand, symbolizes preparation for war and uses the haka and poi dance forms to show the desire for victory. “Sasa, Lapa Lapa, Slap,” a Samoan number, proves young Samoans’ agility and skill through powerful movements and beautiful chanting. Group members will connect with the roots of their dances and, for some, the roots of their own ancestry. Some of the students have close relatives in the South Pacific, and this visit will be the first time that many of their family members will be able to see them perform. “My father danced in Living Legends years ago when it was called Lamanite Generation. My mother is from Hawaii, and my uncle is from New Zealand—his parents still live over there,” says performer Ikaika Cole. “I am excited about going to the South Pacific because I grew up loving Polynesian culture, and the island people have a spirit of happiness that is just contagious.” As descendants of Tongans and Samoans, brothers and Living Legends dancers Philip and Adam Conte have a strong Polynesian background. While working in the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, Philip learned the Māori tradition of intricate woodcarving from two New Zealanders who taught him how to carve the famous waka taua, or war canoes. “[My brother and I] grew up dancing with and surrounded by Polynesians,” Philip says. “We learned the dances and the culture through them, and we love it and are proud of it. We have cousins who live in New Zealand, and we are excited for them to see us perform.” Living Legends member Sia Fifita, who is of Samoan and Māori descent, has family on all three islands of the tour. “My grandfather comes from the town of Kolovai in Tonga, where the Māori royal family resided for some time,” recounts Fifita. “When the Samoans came to visit the royal family, their gift was a baby—my grandfather—which is where my Samoan side came from.” Growing up, Fifita spent many summers in Tonga. This visit will be special for her in part because she will share and celebrate the culture of her people. In Polynesia, family bonds are strong, and tradition and history mean a lot. Young adults who preserve their culture in dance and music are highly respected. Polynesian communities also encourage the younger generation to seek higher education—which is one of the messages that members of Living Legends share with their audiences and the people they come in contact with. The group performs a song called “Go, My Son,” which bestows ancestral advice to get an education. “My grandma who lives in Samoa today always inspired me to get an education, and I know she has made so many sacrifices for me to be where I am today,” says Living Legends member Filemoni Tiatia. “This is an opportunity to give back to my people and ancestors.”
Red uniforms, the Union Jack, Big Ben, and tea. This list calls to mind one thing: Great Britain. For BYU Ballroom Dance Company, the Blackpool Dance Festival is an important part of that list. On May 27 the team will travel nearly 5,000 miles to the United Kingdom for its 2016 tour, which will include Blackpool’s British Formation Championships. Held in the Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool, England, the festival has become one of the most prestigious worldwide dance events, hosting nearly 3,000 couples from more than 60 countries each year. Begun in 1920, this event attracts the best ballroom dancers in the world, and Ballroom Dance Company is honored to be among them. “It will be a great experience for all of us because we get to compete . . . [and] we get to see dances of high caliber in person,” says BYU dancer Devri Ray. The company has competed in Blackpool every three years since 1971, and they have won either first or second place each visit. The last time they competed at Blackpool, in 2013, they received a standing ovation at the finale of their ballroom formation performance. BYU engineering students had connected color-changing LED lights to the dancers’ dresses, and when the team members took the floor of the Empress Ballroom, they dazzled the audience with both their movements and their LED-lit outfits. This year Ballroom Dance Company has a new director, Curt Holman, at its helm. But Holman is not new to the festival; he and his wife have been invited to perform twice in Blackpool’s British Open Championships. “Curt is super talented,” says BYU dancer Rebekah Johns. “He’s good at using people’s different strengths and recognizing a good spot for them based on what they do best.” For the students to get as much exposure to professionals as possible, Holman brings in outside chore- ographers to train the team. Marat Gimaev and Alina Basyuk, five-time Russian National Amateur Ballroom Champions and Blackpool Professional Rising Star Ballroom Champions, have served as guest instructors for the company, choreographing routines and working with students one-on-one. “We have witnessed such a combination of discipline, dedication, sense of responsibility, desire to share ideas, teamwork, and mutual respect from everybody involved,” says Basyuk. “It’s an amazing experience and a sheer joy to be a part of.” The duo will also be competing at Blackpool. While in Great Britain, Ballroom Dance Company will also tour with its new show, Swing ’n’ Sway. A mix of old and new numbers, the program features both classic ballroom dance numbers and a few contemporary pieces. Whether tango, samba, rumba, or waltz, these numbers have been revised and improved, prepped to awe British audiences. The company has 11 performances throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. They will also do an exchange with students from the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon University. This semester marks the first time that ballroom classes are on the curriculum at Aberdeen, and the university is looking forward to the BYU dancers’ visit. The company will also work with Cambridge University Dancesport Team—a fellow competitor in the formation numbers at the Blackpool Dance Festival. They will meet again in Cambridge, where they will have a ballroom workshop to share their talents. “The plan is to have each of the university groups build friendships, perform for one another, and teach a few numbers,” says artist manager Justin T. Smith. “It’s a very exciting opportunity.” In addition to performances, the dancers will experience educational activities around Britain. One highlight will be the Gloucester Cathedral in England, made famous as a filming location for the Harry Potter films. Other locations the group will visit include Edinburgh Castle, Stonehenge, the Roman Baths, and the city of Preston, an important historical site for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ballroom Dance Company members are excited to put years of hard training into action and share knowledge with other dancers. “The team itself is a great group of people to work with,” says Ray. “They are committed, and there’s a sense of unity.”
Ballroom Dance Company