With its historic red-roofed architecture, cobbled streets, and beautiful bridges connecting the banks of the Vltava River, the city of Prague served as the perfect setting to start Contemporary Dance Theatre’s 2015 summer tour. In addition to the Czech Republic, the group performed in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. In each country, the BYU students met people with extraordinary talents and a mutual love for the art of dance and made personal connections with performers from different nations.
For a community outreach in Dobřichovice, Czech Republic, Contemporary Dance Theatre visited Flight’s Children’s Home. Shy at first, the young children, many of whom had never seen contemporary dance, smiled and clapped as they watched the dancers perform in their gymnasium. When the BYU students invited the children to dance with them, they all jumped up to join the performers on the floor and learn the movements. “We connected with the kids,” says dancer Mackenzie Ballard. “We had to interact with them somehow because there was a language barrier. You don’t need language to dance, so that’s what we did.”
Contemporary Dance Theatre was pleased to participate in the 2015 New Prague Dance Festival, which hosted diverse dance groups from 15 different countries. Between performances, the festival provided workshops directed by professionals in which the dancers developed their abilities and pedagogical knowledge.
Members of a contemporary dance group from Panama became particularly close to the BYU dancers and expressed interest in the university and in applying to study there. They developed great friendships with one another. “We went in thinking, ‘What can I teach these people?’—but we realized that we have the chance to learn from others too,” Ballard says. “That’s an amazing experience and a good change of perspective.”
After six days the festival in Prague drew to a close. At the award ceremony, Contemporary Dance Theatre members waited on the edge of their seats—until their group was called for the Grand Prix Award, given to the overall best group! Festival director David Pospíšil says, “Their preparation was very professional, so it resulted that their performances were really precise also and could be admired from both the artistic and technical side.”
In Budapest the group toured the Hungarian Parliament Building and the House of Terror museum. Later they performed in the Bakelit Multi Art Center.
The BYU dancers also pulled off a flash mob in Vienna by sending a video of the number ahead of time, rehearsing with the local young adults from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints once they arrived, and then performing their dance in front of Karlskirche, a baroque church.
In Bratislava, Slovakia, a senior missionary couple took the group on a tour of Bratislava Castle and then helped the dancers advertise their performance. Later that evening, people gathered around the main square to watch Contemporary Dance Theatre perform. The final number finished with the students dancing around the audience, turning the finale into a large dance party. Interacting in such a way made them feel like a community. “Having dance be the connection between people, missionaries, and performers was a great opportunity,” says dancer Kathleen Christensen.
By the time Contemporary Dance Theatre arrived in Germany, their show in Würzburg was sold out. The reception to the team was staggering: the audience members burst into a standing ovation. The BYU group had six curtain calls before they could step off the stage and meet with the impressive audience, who were well cultured in the language of dance.
Contemporary Dance Theatre members were amazed at the people and energy they encountered in Europe. “I didn’t know what it meant to ‘go forth to serve’ in a dance capacity, but I learned that we can uplift through art,” says Christensen. “The connection we built in this trip was something I had never experienced before.”