Celebrating 40 Years of Friendship
BYU’s relationship with China began in 1979, when BYU Young Ambassadors and a few members of the Lamanite Generation, now known as BYU Living Legends, received an invitation to perform in China. With all of their equipment and costumes, the group arrived in China in July, ready to perform. They were among the first American groups to enter the country in years.
Before having the approval to perform anywhere in the country, the group had to give a spontaneous performance for government officials at the airport. At the end of their performance, they got approval and went on to perform for more than 28,000 audience members in prestigious concert halls, factories, and universities.
BYU was invited back the very next year, during which CCTV filmed the show for a televised event. Thereafter, the Young Ambassadors show was televised in China repeatedly. “People knew us like crazy,” says Young Ambassadors director Randy Boothe. “When we went back in 1983, the most well-known American universities in China were Stanford, Harvard, and BYU—BYU because they had seen them on TV many times from the previous years.”
The 1979 China tour opened many doors and helped strengthen the friendship between BYU and China. In the past 39 years, BYU performing groups have returned to China 28 more times.
One professional group that performs all over China, the Shanghai Song and Dance Troupe, had the opportunity to perform at BYU when they were in the United States in 1982, thanks to Boothe. Boothe was assisting with the grand opening of Epcot at Walt Disney World and, through his connections, brought the Shanghai Song and Dance Troupe to perform at the event. Afterward, the group performed in the Marriott Center at BYU, where they also held workshops with the university’s artistic groups.
The shared artistic friendship—grown through various exchanges through the decades—was strengthened again in 2017. Dancers and musicians from the Minzu University of China shared a stage with BYU International Folk Dance Ensemble during BYU’s Christmas Around the World show in Provo. The students from China stayed at BYU for about a month, making friends and learning more about the arts in the US as they rehearsed with the Folk Dancers. Between rehearsals, the students shared snacks from their countries and played card games. “One of the most beautiful things about music is that you can be from China or from Utah and after a couple of days jamming together, you’re all good friends,” says International Folk Dance Ensemble musician Jake Goehring.
During the 2019 tour to China, International Folk Dance Ensemble plans to visit the Minzu University of China and greet their friends. “It’ll be awesome because we’ll recognize each other, and we’ll already have established a vibe from performing together,” says Goehring.
China Spectacular 2019
On May 17 of this year, a cast of more than 200 BYU students will travel to China. China Spectacular 2019 will be the biggest show to date, combining eight groups from BYU to make one grand production that showcases the best of what the university has to offer. With venues in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai, the show will include performances from Living Legends, International Folk Dance Ensemble, the Ballroom Dance Company, Young Ambassadors, Vocal Point, the Chamber Orchestra, the Cougarettes, and the Dunk Team with Cosmo.
“The show’s theme is based on five circles of aspects that are important to our lives,” says producer Michael Handley: family, harmony, friendship, learning, and love. He adds, “The show is highly entertaining, energetic, fun, and lively.”
Each group was carefully chosen to bring China Spectacular to life and help celebrate the 40 years of friendship between BYU and China. While many members of Living Legends and the Ballroom Dance Company will be on other tours in Brazil and Europe, those groups are lending a few alumni to represent them during the China tour.
“It is the largest, most complex tour we’ve ever taken abroad,” says executive producer Jeff Ringer. “We hope that this tour will be a great experience for the student performers and great entertainment for the audiences. Beyond that, we hope the show helps raise the profile of BYU and highlights the deep academic connections between BYU and China.”
The students are also getting excited about this huge collaboration. “By us performing and being good examples of talent and kindness, it can bring more peace for us as a people and bring more joy through the universal language of music and dance,” says Chamber Orchestra member Jamie Baker.
While they wait for the other groups to arrive, the BYU Chamber Orchestra will perform at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. They plan to ask locals for help with one of their numbers. “It requires extra players,” says Baker, “so we’ll have some players from the areas we visit who will sit in and play with our orchestra, which will be exciting.”
Many of the groups have translated pieces into Chinese in honor of the tour. Additionally, the students are enrolled in a culture class where they learn traditions of the Chinese people and a bit of Mandarin, so they can speak with audience members and friends.
“It’s been really such a wonderful relationship with China,” says Boothe, “and we’re so excited to go back and continue building that friendship that’s been going now for 40 years.”