BYU Dance in Concert combines cultures, tastes for collaborative performance

The Contemporary Dance Theatre performs "Ordinary Festivals." Numbers at the concert displayed various cultures and perspectives. (Gianluca Cuestas)
The Contemporary Dance Theatre performs “Ordinary Festivals.” Concert numbers display different cultures and perspectives. (Gianluca Cuestas)

Internationally acclaimed performance groups from BYU’s dance department will unite to the beat in one big concert this weekend.

All five of BYU’s dance groups have put their best feet forward, creating a complex and diverse concert including performances from Living Legends, Contemporary Dance Theatre, Theatre Ballet, International Folk Dance and the Ballroom Dance Company.

BYU Dance in Concert (formerly known as eviDANCE and World of Dance) started more than 40 years ago.

Artistic director Edwin Austin said seeing the groups all together on one stage is a rare opportunity.

“We tend to get a little complacent about the fact that BYU has dance companies that are recognized throughout the world,” Austin said. “They work around us all the time, then they go out and they’re recognized for some of these amazing things that they do. And then they come home, and nobody really knows too much about that.”

Dance in Concert follows no theme so as not to restrict any group’s freedom of repertoire, and the performance features dances plucked from various styles, countries and time periods. Hawaiian hulas, Hungarian slap dances and Spanish bullfight-inspired dances go back-to-back with 19th-century ballets and the Ballroom Dance Company’s award-winning “Ode to Joy” performance.

Each group throws some innovation into their performances. In one number, dancers use a trampoline and an overhead live camera feed. Other dances use rugs, video clips and unusual staging to add interest. Theatre Ballet pauses the show to arrange a backdrop of giant white sheets before and after one dance.

Contemporary Dance Theatre artistic director Nathan Balser said the combined efforts of directors and students make a large concert possible so early in the season.

“Preparation for this performance is always at break-neck speed,” Balser said. “We really push the dancers to focus, learn quickly and rise to the occasion. They, of course, are truly terrific and accept the challenge willingly.”

Living Legends’ artistic director Janielle Christensen said the energy, outlook and talent brought by the dancers always excites her. She said Living Legends performers dance because they love their cultures and the stories they can tell through performance. and that their passion brings fire to the show.

One of the show’s final numbers features Michael Goedel performing a Native American hoop dance. Goedel formerly danced professionally in the Cirque du Soleil Totem Show and now attends BYU.

Christensen said Goedel’s choice to complete his education at BYU and bring his skill to Living Legends makes for a remarkable story.

“This experience for him right now is even more important than the opportunity to be on a worldwide stage with Cirque du Soleil,” Christensen said.

The hoop dance, among other acclaimed numbers, helped to establish Dance in Concert’s informal theme, defined by Austin as one of richness and diversity.

“Add that all together and you get probably one of the most unique dance concerts in the world,” Balser said. “Truly a great evening out at the theater.”

BYU Dance in Concert runs from Thursday, Sept. 15, to Saturday, Sept. 17, with daily performances at 7:30 p.m. and a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.

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