Celebrating 50 Years
The BYU Young Ambassadors is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the group’s first international performance, at Expo ’70, a world’s fair held in Osaka, Japan. Throughout the last 50 years, about 1,700 members of the Young Ambassadors have traveled thousands of miles, visited 68 countries, and met millions of new friends. In addition, 2020 marks the last year that the Young Ambassadors will be led by director Randy Boothe, who is retiring. For more than 40 years, he has guided the group with love, kindness, and selflessness. From Boothe’s example, current and former members of the Young Ambassadors share light and joy to all those they meet. Some alumni work and perform for Broadway, national touring companies, cruise lines, regional theaters, schools, and studios. Husband and wife alumni Jon Uland and Whitney Uland toured with the Young Ambassadors to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam in 2014. Today they live in New York and work in the entertainment industry. Whitney produces and acts, working on commercials, television, and film. Jon produces and scores film for Warner Media; he also has a band. The Ulands remember lessons from Boothe. “Randy always taught us to look out for the one person who needs our help. We live in a world that has so many needs,” says Whitney. “But you can make a difference in the world just by showing kindness to one person, and I am grateful my experience on the Young Ambassadors taught me that.” To commemorate the 50th anniversary, the Young Ambassadors planned to tour Japan in May. In addition, current members and alumni prepared a reunion performance in late March with special guest Marie Osmond. However, due to COVID-19, the tour and special performance were canceled. The Young Ambassadors now plan to tour Japan in 2022. In January 2020, the Young Ambassadors visited Rexburg and Twin Falls, Idaho, and Afton, Wyoming. In that three-day tour, the group had two community outreaches and three performances. In February, the Young Ambassadors visited Reno, Nevada, and San Jose, Fresno, Oakland, and Merced, California. This midsemester tour included two community outreaches and four performances. Josh Roberts, an audience member in Rexburg, said of the Young Ambassadors, “They just brought a smile to my face every time they sang. . . . They will raise your spirits.” Members of the Young Ambassadors change, but the joy that audiences receive is constant.
Sharing Folk Music and Dance
As a veteran of domestic and international tours, the BYU International Folk Dance Ensemble was planning tours to Oregon and Europe this year. They are also no strangers to adversity, as this year illustrates. The International Folk Dance Ensemble began a weeklong tour to Oregon at the beginning of March. Because the growing concern over COVID-19 along the West Coast was just beginning at that time, the tour departed as planned. The group performed in the cities of Ontario and Sisters; the Ontario show was completely sold out and the Sisters show was also packed. “The performance was incredible and fabulous,” says show presenter Mel Petterson. “We were all so impressed with how the group was not only the performers but [also] the setup and takedown crew. The performers were so positive, humble, and happy!” Midway through the tour, however, the Oregon government announced a moratorium on public performances, effective immediately, which canceled the rest of the trip for the group. Well-laid plans for workshops and performances in Corvallis, Medford, and Milwaukie had to be set aside. As soon as the official declaration was made, the group complied with government orders and returned home. While it was hard on the students, dancer Robert Rex expresses a positive outlook on what they were able to accomplish. “I’m grateful we got to perform what we did,” he says. “It may not have been what we wanted, but the fact that we got to do something and bring a little joy to some people makes it all worth it to me.” Due to global health concerns, the group will also be unable to tour internationally this year. They were to participate in the CIOFF World Folkloriada festival in Russia and also the World Festival Parade, a folk festival in the Netherlands that takes place every four years. A third folk festival—in Issoire, France—was also in the plans. During the tour, the students were going to share dance styles unique to American heritage and visit various cultural sites throughout their respective locations. These plans will now be reevaluated, with the hope that they can be revived in a future tour to Europe.
International Folk Dance Ensemble
Hope in Disappointment
At the end of 2019, the BYU Ballroom Dance Company met excited audiences as they toured Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana. The three-state tour included five performances and time to sightsee at Mount Rushmore. The company started 2020 by performing with seven-year-old YouTube sensation Claire Crosby in her newest music video. In the video, the Ballroom Dance Company waltzes seamlessly through the Utah State Capitol rotunda as Crosby sings “Once Upon a December.” January also brought a performance in Roosevelt, Utah, for the city’s Parks and Recreation winter activity program. In February the company performed for three sold-out crowds at their Winterfest concert in the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City. The audiences seemed just as excited to watch the Ballroom Dance Company as the company was to perform the newest routine in their repertoire, a jive. After their performance, the company had a special visit with President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In addition, the Ballroom Dance Company worked hard to prepare for the United States National Amateur Dancesport Championship, for BYU Ballroom’s 60th anniversary concert and alumni reunion, and for their spring tour to South Africa and Botswana; however, partway through the Dancesport Championship in March, dramatic cancellations due to COVID-19 were announced. “When I woke up Thursday morning I had no idea that I would be performing for the last time in my college career,” says Ballroom Dance Company member and graduating senior Autumn Hawkes. “So abruptly and prematurely my time dancing ballroom at BYU was coming to a close.” Company members love to dance and love the light they share when they dance. Hawkes reflects on the song for her final dance, “I Bet You Don’t Curse God,” that has brought comfort through these disappointments. “I stand by the personal testimony I expressed through this final dance,” says Hawkes, quoting the lyrics: “‘There’s pain. Life hurts. There’s a thousand things you think you don’t deserve. When all hope is lost, when you spend it all and you just can’t beat the odds, I bet you don’t curse God.’” The company has postponed current performances and looks forward to going on tour to South Africa and Botswana in spring 2021.
Ballroom Dance Company
To the Pacific Northwest
BYU Vocal Point members are no strangers to crowds. They have traveled throughout the West Coast and Intermountain West, performing for audiences of many sizes and backgrounds. On January 31 and February 1, the group performed for energized audiences at the Winterfest concert series in Salt Lake City at the Conference Center Theater. In February, Vocal Point got to experience a first: their inaugural weeklong midsemester tour. This tour covered Portland, Oregon; Everett, Olympia, and Richland, Washington; and Meridian, Idaho. One of their five performances on this tour was managed and sponsored by IMG Artists. Vocal Point also hosted a student outreach event in Olympia. This year was supposed to offer the group their first-ever three-week tour, planned to the southern and eastern United States. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, this tour has been postponed till 2021. Last year held many new experiences for the nine-man a cappella group. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of BYU’s first performing group going to China, the university sent more than 200 performers to China to perform in a show called BYU Spectacular. During this show, Vocal Point danced and sang for audiences in Shanghai, Beijing, and Xi’an. This special tour was then followed by Vocal Point’s first solo international tour, in which they spent a week in Bangkok, Thailand. While there, they performed for charity events and visited local sights. “I was blown away by how amazing the people were there,” says baritone Yaphet Bustos. “I’ve never felt so much more energy from a group of people than I did performing abroad.”
Outreach in Arizona
BYU Living Legends completed a week-long performance tour in Arizona in January, visiting Page, Sedona, Topawa, Yuma, and Queen Creek. Throughout the tour, Living Legends packed in a lot of activities, from outreaches and school assemblies to nightly performances. While in Page, the group held two special performances for young students at Page High School. Similarly, in Topawa, Living Legends performed for high school students at the Baboquivari High School. After these assemblies, Living Legends members met with the students. “For us, getting to represent not just our heritage but the heritage of many of these students was special,” says Native American dancer JoAnni Begay. Living Legends also paid a special visit to the home of philanthropist Ira A. Fulton. Brother Fulton, an Arizona native, has been a longtime donor to BYU, helping to fund the completion of multiple buildings on campus; the university’s College of Engineering is named in his honor. The group performed a few dances for him while they visited. “It can be hard to connect a real person to the names on the buildings,” says Living Legends director Jamie Wood. “Getting to see Brother Fulton laugh and talk, as kind as anyone else, drew out something in the students. I’m glad we were able to visit.”
New Living Legends Director Jamie Wood
Jamie Kalama Wood is the new director of Living Legends. She graduated from BYU in 2002 with a bachelor’s in music dance theatre and from San Diego State University in 2006 with a master’s in musical theatre. One of Wood’s childhood teachers introduced Wood to music dance theatre. “I had an amazing theatre teacher in middle school,” says Wood. “Theatre was one of the many electives that I tried, and it stuck.” Since then, Wood has inspired students she has taught across the United States and in India. In addition, she has taught professional workshops and created original licensing material and curriculum based on world cultures and the arts. Wood’s talent and skill has allowed her to perform in Europe, in Hawaii, and throughout North America. “I love having the opportunity to perform and create empathy for people so different from myself either in their circumstances or their priorities,” says Wood. “If I don’t love them, I can’t portray them.” Most recently, Wood taught and performed in New York City. She worked for Disney Theatrical Group, the Metropolitan Opera Guild, and Roundabout Theatre Company. She has worked as an actress, choreographer, soloist, and director for a variety of plays, musicals, commercials, and movies. “As a director and choreographer, I love seeing the whole picture and molding the experience in order to tell the story,” says Wood. Because of Wood’s mixed ancestral heritage, she has fostered a love for world cultures and language. “I know that I’ll have Polynesian, Latin, and Native family members watching our shows, so that puts on pressure,” says Wood. “I want to make sure we acknowledge our historical roots and are transparent in where our dances begin. At the same time, I feel an immense pressure to create a show that speaks to the rising generation, because they’re my nieces, nephews, and children.”
Lauren Clark Makes It All Count
Lauren Clark is BYU Performing Arts Management’s new accountant. In 2012 she graduated magna cum laude from BYU with a degree in public relations. Since graduation, she has worked in personal finance and administrative accounting. Once her children are older, she plans to receive a graduate degree in public administration or accounting. “I enjoy the organization of finance,” says Clark. “I love taking a lot of messy data and turning it into a clean, concise report that plays a key part in decision-making for the department.” Clark also appreciates BYU’s focus to bring uplifting and wholesome entertainment to the world. She loves learning about other cultures and has traveled to England, France, Mexico, and Russia. “Culture plays such a vital role in a person’s identity,” says Clark, “and I love learning the meaning behind the customs different groups have.”