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Christmas Around the World Showcases International Choreographers

Dancers from the International Folk Dance Ensemble worked with artists from across the world to bring a diverse performance to BYU

Christmas Around the World is almost synonymous with the Christmas season in Utah Valley. The International Folk Dance Ensemble (IFDE)’s annual concert has been bringing people together across distances and generations for 60 years. This year’s theme — “A Light in the Window” — celebrates the courage and hope of migrants as they travel and adapt.

Featuring the talents of over 175 dancers and musicians, Christmas Around the World is a celebration of unity, diversity and Christmas joy. This year’s performance includes dances from all over the globe, including Ukraine, Wales, Indonesia, Haiti, Germany and Scotland. 

The world dance program highly values accuracy and authenticity, and brings in international choreographers whenever possible. Recently, artists from India, Mexico, China, Canada and more have visited campus — teaching, choreographing and coaching dancers on genre-specific styling. 

“Almost all of our dances are not choreographed by the teachers or directors, but by specialists or people from that country,” said IFDE member Ashley Jex. 

Here is a sneak peek at some of the guest artists whose work is featured in this year’s concert:

Miguel Pena, Mexico

Miguel Pena

Miguel Pena works with BYU folk dancers.(@byu_folkdance)

Pena first visited BYU last fall, when he choreographed a traditional Mexican folk dance for the program. His piece, “Fandango Veracruzano,” is full of intricate footwork and flirtatious fun, and Pena’s personality is just as high energy.

“Setting the Mexican piece with Miguel was really fun,” said IFDE dancer Natalie Van Wagoner.  “

His teaching style is really distinct and hands on. He was a very clear teacher, and he knew exactly what he wanted, which was nice. You could tell that he loved what he did, and he was very good at it. It was cool to have that amazing example of technique to then apply to my own dancing.”

I Gusti Agung Ayu Warsiki, Indonesia

I Gusti Agung Ayu Warsiki

Warsiki and her husband, who are visiting professors at BYU.

Warsiki is a renowned performer and teacher, and has taught dance at the National High School for the Performing Arts in Bali since 1981. She and her husband — a gamelan professor and composer — are visiting fellows at BYU for the 2019-20 school year. 

Members of Warsiki’s Balinese dance class, who have spent the entire semester learning this piece and perfecting its nuanced gestures and expressions, will perform the piece.

“It is so intricate,” says dancer Kyleigh Cooper. “A lot of it is about the eyes, the fingers, the mouth and the emotions that you portray on your face. Trying to understand what she wants us to portray when there is that language barrier can be a little confusing sometimes, and it’s taken us a while to get a hold of it. But she’s really proud of how far we’ve come, and we’re really proud of how far we’ve come.”

Su Yafei, Tibet

Su Yafei

Su Yafei teaches BYU dancers. (Benjamin Williams)

IFDE first began working with Su during their tour of China last summer where they learned the beginnings of the Tibetan piece. Su — a professor at Minzu University in Beijing — specializes in composition and traditional minority dance. Her piece, titled “Children of Snow Mountain,” seeks to fuse both contemporary and traditional Tibetan styles. In October, Su came to BYU to finish the piece and host a series of intensive workshops with IFDE. Although she does not speak English — the dancers communicated through a translator — they did not let the language barrier slow them down.

“The translation part wasn’t as difficult as I thought,” said Jex. “Instead of listen and learn, it was watch and learn. It was a very visual process.”

Through their hands-on experience with people of other cultures, the members of IFDE are learning the power and universality of movement. 

“It’s fun to see how even though we don’t all speak the same language, we were all smiling and having fun,” said Van Wagoner. “The idea of a light in the window paints this cozy scene in my mind. Everybody’s dancing, having a good time and anyone’s welcome. No one’s an outsider. I am not Tibetan, I’m not Chinese, I’m not Ukrainian, but I’m doing these dances. The essence of this concert is about that feeling of sharing culture and sharing smiles. It brings everyone together and bridges that gap.”

Tickets and Show Details

Performance Dates and Times: Dec. 6-7 | 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 | 2:00 p.m.

Location: Marriott Center

Price: $9-22

Tickets: Available in person at the BYU HFAC or Marriott Center Ticket Office, by phone at (801) 422-2981 or online at