A bond forged 40 years ago was renewed this year by BYU’s largest-ever performing tour.
In the most unlikely of long shots, BYU’s Young Ambassadors became the first Western performing group to enter communist China in 1979, finding sudden fame and forging an improbable bond with the Chinese people—a friendship now 40 years strong. It’s a relationship marked by academic and cultural exchanges, faculty collaborations, long-standing study-abroad programs, and 30 repeat trips by BYU performing groups. In nearly six decades of sending student performing groups abroad, BYU had taken on some pretty ambitious tours, but the 2019 tour exceeded them all with eight groups combined for 167 performers in total. Throw in the tech crew, directors, and other support staff, and the company numbered more than 200. For two years Janielle Hildebrandt Christensen, producer Michael G. Handley (BS ’83), and others worked to craft a show around various Chinese audience interests—including Broadway, Riverdance and American clog, ballroom dance, a capella, and an addition of BYU's dunk team for basketball-crazed Chinese audiences. Wanting more than just a variety show, the creators wove together a theme of shared values—family, learning, friendship, harmony, and love. Calling it BYU Spectacular, they built a show to live up to the name, with pump-up lighting for the dunk team’s acrobatics, laser projections for a John Williams fanfare by the Chamber Orchestra, larger-than-life lion puppetry operated by Cougarettes for a Vocal Point cover of “Circle of Life,” and stilts and a Segway for a dreamlike Greatest Showman number by the Young Ambassadors.
When technical director Travis L. Coyne arrived in Beijing five days before the first performance in May, he expected his 20 pallets of lights, sound equipment, scenery, staging, projectors, puppets, and trampolines to already be in country and working their way through customs. However, the shipping company told him there had been a delay, but—not to fear—it would all arrive shortly. Two days later, the equipment still not in China, the company admitted that the load had been bumped from its flight and sent instead to Newark. New Jersey. USA. There was no way it could arrive and pass customs in time for the Beijing performances. “We were praying for a miracle,' said Christensen. Read more at magazine.byu.edu