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Dance celebrates cultures in 'Living Legends'

Brigham Young University's colorful Living Legends touring show presents the songs and dances of American Indians, Latin Americans and Polynesians.

The 35-year-old program, which, like the school, is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has traveled the world and was featured in the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Formerly known as the Lamanite Generation, the production comes to Modesto on Monday.

"Living Legends is a unique and one-of-a-kind show," artistic director Janielle Christensen said. "It's a thrilling variety of cultures and music and live performance and special effects, over 300 beautiful, authentic costumes. It's a show that's fun and exciting and entertaining."

This year's 90-minute program is titled "Seasons" and reflects the cycle of seasons that all civilizations go through from promise and plenty to prosperity and rebirth, Christensen said.

The 36 dancers are all members of the cultures and are selected by audition the week before school starts. They are chosen not only for their performance skills but for their ability to communicate with audiences.

These particular ethnic groups are celebrated because of the special place they have in the Mormon Church.

"At one point, there was a connection with the people with these particular cultures where they had some ties and where they were known as a Lamanite people," Christensen said.

According to controversial Mormon teachings, which have been disputed by DNA evidence, the ethnic groups are descendents of a lost tribe of Israel known as the Lamanites, which arrived in the New World more than 2,000 years ago. The dispute was covered in a Los Angeles Times article reprinted in The Bee's Faith & Values section March 18.

But Christensen said the controversy has nothing to do with Monday's program or the performers.

"They don't travel in any way to provide a religious message or promote religion," she said. "In this case, it's their cultural heritage."

The show changed its name from Lamanite Generation to Living Legends about 10 years ago because the old name didn't resonate with non-Mormons, Christensen said.

"It wasn't something that generally audiences would respond to in a way that would help us to promote the show or that would help people who would have questions about it," she said.

The new name, Living Legends, refers to the performers, who are the descendants of the figures referred to in the various cultures' legends.

"These young people are the product of their heritage," she said. "The show very much honors the heritage that each of them come from."

WHAT: BYU's Living Legends

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Monday

WHERE: Modesto High School auditorium, First and H streets.


CALL: 613-1732