By BRINTON WILKINS
Bringing Lamanite cultures to life is the goal of BYU’s performing group Living Legends, and costumes are an essential element. Toreador outfits, peacock-feather headdresses, deer heads and sequins all combine to create a kaleidoscope of colors and textures.
Creating more than 300 culturally accurate Polynesian, Native American and Latin American costumes for Living Legends’ high energy show is a challenge for the group’s costume designer, Erika Ramirez-Lee.
“I want them to be as strong as their performance,” Ramirez-Lee said.
Sitting in her shop in 47 KMB, Ramirez-Lee is surrounded by hundreds of old and new costumes she has struggled to design.
“They’re all hard,” she said. “Because you are dealing with cultures.”
This year’s show, which is based on the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, is slightly different from last year’s show, she said. These changes have involved creating more costumes.
Every costume is researched to make it culturally accurate, she said.
Details such as the face-paint used in the Maori dances must be researched because the designs represent families and history, she said.
To make the costumes authentic they are made using fabrics imported from countries such as Fiji, Hawaii, Mexico and Paraguay, Ramirez-Lee said.
Creating authentic costumes can pose difficulties and problems.
“We’re pretty much restricted to not offending cultures, preserving the cultures and representing the cultures,” she said.
Also at times, against cultural tradition, the costumes have to be altered so that they are in accordance with the Honor Code, she said.
At the same time, alterations are made so that the costumes are more functional and theatrical, Ramirez-Lee said. For instance, compact discs on the back of the feathered war-dance costumes hold the feathers together while lending sparkle.
Janielle Christensen, artistic director of Living Legends, agrees that the costumes are a vital part of the group.
“The show takes you on a journey through these cultures,” Christensen said. “The costumes are an invaluable part of that immediate image.”
The overall impact of the costumes and performances has been positive, she said. Members of the cultures presented by Living Legends say they feel honored when the group performs, she said.
The cultural experiences of students in the group help bring the costumes to life. A prerequisite for dancing in the group is Lamanite ancestry.
Ruben Yescas, 26, a senior from Sonora, Mexico, majoring in economics is a section leader for the Latin American dances and dances the deer-dance in the show.
Yescas’ costume, which is dominated by a deer head tied to his head, comes to life only as Yescas’ dances.
“You have to know the dances and the folklore,” Yescas’ said.
With all of the effort put into performing and costuming for Living Legends, Ramirez-Lee, Christensen and Yescas agree that the spiritual payoff is most important.
“I feel what I have learned here is the spiritual side,” Yescas said. “And to represent my culture makes me really proud.”