Spreading the gospel through Living Legends

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Jerad Todacheenie, a Native American dancer from Living Legends, demonstrates a movement typical of the Native American culture. Living Legends will be performing in the de Jong concert hall Feb 21-22. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Dance.)
Jerad Todacheenie, a Native American dancer from Living Legends, demonstrates a movement typical of the Native American culture. Living Legends will be performing in the de Jong concert hall Feb 21-22. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Dance.)

The appeal to spread the gospel has been heard by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints far and wide, yet. Perhaps one of the most creative groups to answer the prophets’ call is BYU’s Living Legends.

This week, Living Legends will perform the appropriately titled show, “Seasons,” which portrays the phases of civilizations and our personal lives.

Composed of 36 dancers and assisted by a talented stage crew and artistic director, Living Legends has been to 42 countries while presenting in impressive venues, including the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

“It changes lives,” said Shauna Kalua’u, support, operation and audition coordinator for BYU’s music dance and theater department.

Led by artistic director Janielle Christensen, the group was created to show the story of the Book of Mormon through the eyes of the Lamanite cultures, Native Americans, Polynesians and Latin Americans.

“As a group, it is unique in all the world. There are not any other groups that combine all three of these cultures,” said Christensen, who has been artistic director for the last 24 years. “When we create a show that is that important with so many sacred elements to it, you have to be careful to portray them in the most respectful, authentic and honest way you can.”

Living Legends’ ability to build bridges of friendship and understanding is instrumental in moving the message of the gospel forward, according to Christensen.

“We aren’t proselyting missionaries, but we feel that we are definitely instruments in the Lord’s hands,” said Kaisha Alailima, Polynesian section leader. “(Living Legends) has given me more opportunities to open myself up to doing missionary work. It has helped me grow spiritually and be able to expand myself and share what I believe is true.”

Recently, the group toured northern California for 10 days to perform to many who had not heard of Living Legends before.

“I really love the message we share and the way we reach out to people,” said Roy Tialavea, an advertising major. “When we went to California, missionaries brought a lot of their investigators there. I think that’s the coolest thing.”

Many are touched by the Spirit through the authentic portrayal of the cultural dances, including high-ranking officials.

“I think one of the best things I can do for my people is have the people of my country see the show,” said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to Christensen after a moving performance in that country last year.

Teresa Mendiola, a Latin American dancer from Living Legends, demonstrates a movement typical of the Latin American culture. Living Legends will be performing in the de Jong concert hall Feb 21-22. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Dance.)
Hannah Meha, a Polynesian dancer from Living Legends, demonstrates a movement typical of the Polynesian culture. Living Legends will be performing in the de Jong concert hall Feb 21-22. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Dance.)

However, the audience members are not the only ones affected by the performances and cultural immersion.

“It was cool to learn my culture from the dance perspective. I took Samoan language classes, but there is something about dance that opens up your eyes to a lot more than just learning the language can do,” Alailima said.

Although Tialavea has only been in the group for four months, he admits Living Legends has helped all areas of his life.

“Being on the team benefits your social, spiritual and educational life,” Tialavea said. “I can’t see myself not being in the group next year.”

All are encouraged to see the performance for themselves.

“(Living Legends) has made my BYU experience more meaningful. If I were just at school, it’d be different. Things would just be just about me,” said Tavana Alailima, husband of Kaisha. “But going on tour and being part of the missionary work makes it all worth it. You can’t get this experience at any other university.”

Living Legends performs March 27 in the de Jong theatre. Tickets are available at byuarts.com

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