Looking behind the scenes of BYU International Folk Dance

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PRAGUE, Czech Republic — The International Folk Ensemble, one of BYU’s performing dance groups, is making its mark in central Europe this summer, wowing audiences in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Croatia.

This group has worked its way into the hearts of both the fellow performers and audiences in each of these countries through dance and music.  A large portion of its success, however, is attributable to those whose work is largely unseen.

Take Mark Ohran and Marianne Ohran, for instance, who have worked with the folk ensemble and others of BYU’s performing dance groups for five years.  The couple works in tandem to provide lighting and ensure the overall quality of the show. They also enlist the help of the dancers and band members instead of hiring a full technical crew. The effect is what Mountain Strings mandolin player Erin Patterson described as being “very professional, very top-notch.”

Mark Ohran, who built the light sets the team uses on home tours, is known for his strict attention to detail, said Tim Krumwiede, bassist for Mountain Strings. Krumwiede said he did not initially understand Ohran’s perfectionism and thought of him as being hard-to-please. Over time, however, he said he now appreciates Ohran’s high standards.

“While it seemed at first like it was getting in the way of being productive, now we’re like a well-oiled machine,” Krumwiede said. “I’ve really come to see that he truly knows what he’s talking about.”

While not an aspect generally noticed by the audience, Ohran’s work plays an integral part in the success of the show. According to Krumwiede, the technical quality of the show not only affects the performers but the audience reception as well.

Until recently, the Ohrans ran everything, from lighting to sound, according to Krumwiede. Temporary sound technicians came and went, often leaving Mark Ohran and the team short-handed and stressed out.

“It was too much for one person,” Krumwiede said.

That was until December 2010, when the team was introduced to Doug Olsen, who has since become their audio technician. Olsen’s duties include packing and setting up the sound gear, mixing the music in the show and running the sound during the show.

“He makes us sound good,” Krumwiede said.

Olsen has positively influenced many aspects of the show, from the overall sound quality to smaller details. For instance, band banjo player Jared Bennett recalls a time before Olsen when broken strings were a common side affect of his attempts to play loudly and compensate for the often-soft acoustics. However, Olsen provided the band with a louder sound, enabling Bennett to play softer and with better precision.

Since Olsen is still in college, he is among peers and fits in well with members of the Folk Ensemble. He is studying audio engineering through BYU’s theater department, so his work with the BYU team is more of a passion than anything else.

“I really love what I do. To me it’s like performing,” Olsen said. “When I’m mixing the show and there’s that moment when the band is performing and they hit it right and I hit it right—it’s a beautiful moment of synergy.”

Another behind-the-scenes crew member is Ronald Nuttall, director of dance medicine facilities at BYU.  He is responsible for preventing and treating injuries sustained by the dancers. With his background of 23 years as a private therapist and athletic trainer, Nuttall is well-equipped to respond to these needs. During the team’s tour of Europe he was often found treating the dancers during rehearsals and even on the tour bus while traveling to various destinations.

“He knows so much about dance injuries, injury prevention and safety. He knows everything,” said Liahona Walus, a BYU dancer.

Nuttall’s dedication to the holistic well-being of the dancers has produced remarkable dividends since the number of injuries sustained by the dancers is a fraction of what it was when he first began working with the dance teams at BYU.

Part of his role involves serving as liaison between the dancers and their trainers, advocating warm-up and cool-down periods as a physical respite as well as a time for the dancers to calm their emotions and express gratitude. According to Nuttall, part of his job is to help the BYU dancers spiritually as well as physically.

“You can’t separate the physical from the emotional from the spiritual. If they’re healthy spiritually, there’s a lot less physical problems,” he said. “I also feel like I’ve been given a gift when it comes to healing and fixing things.”

The combination of talent stemming from Nuttall, Olsen and the Ohrans has been invaluable. While claiming little personal credit for the success of the team, this largely unheralded group has served as means to seamlessly showcase the talents of the International Folk Ensemble during its tour abroad.

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