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‘Light of the world’

‘Light of the world’

“Come all ye nations of the earth, with joy and gladness sing!” is the Church’s invitation to Olympic visitors as a cast of more than 1,000 dancers, singers and actors stages “Light of the World — a Celebration of Life,” which opened Feb. 5 at the Conference Center.

Voiced by the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, those words are set to the tune “Ellacombe” — familiar to Latter-day Saints as “Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise” (Hymns 1985, No. 41). It comprises an exultant moment, occurring early on in the show, just after the colorful performance of dances from many nations, including Irish, Spanish, African, Asian, Russian and Pacific Islands, all played out on a magnificent domed stage that covers the length and breadth of the rostrum in the main auditorium. Recorded accompaniment was by the Orchestra at Temple Square.

Earlier, the audience is treated to views from space, photographed by the Hubble Telescope, projected onto a sheer curtain that covers the stage. These give way to scenes of terrestrial beauty as passages are cited from the creation account in Genesis.

But there is much more to come. A spotlight illuminates a family with an infant as the parents sing: “Baby, angel child from heaven, You renew this place. Purest light and endless promise shine in your haloed face. In your eyes a sweet reminder, Strains of long ago. We’ll be here to guard and guide you Back to the world you’ve known.”

Small family groups now fill the stage as live and taped video scenes of interaction between children, parents and grandparents are projected onto a sheer curtain suspended from above. A narrator says: “With God’s light illuminating her path, the child learns who she is and what she can become. At the crossroads of decision she sets her course and dedicates herself to following it. Her voyage of discovery begins.”

Later, pulling an abstract sailboat, children enter the stage, singing, skipping, flying kites; some performers are suspended in the air. A huge storybook is brought on stage. As its pages are turned, reference is made to stories of Olympic athletes, who, as children, grew to find their path and reflected the light of divinity within them.

Cast members of “Light of the World, A Celebration of Life” go through dress rehearsal at the Conference Center on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002. The show ran through the Olympics.

Cast members of “Light of the World, A Celebration of Life” go through dress rehearsal at the Conference Center on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002. The show will run through the Olympics.

Credit: Kevin Lee, Deseret News

One of these stories is about Alma Richards, a Latter-day Saint from Parowan, Utah, who found the courage to return to finish school at the age of 19, having dropped out of the eighth grade, and went on to distinguish himself in the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Brother Richards, the first Mormon Olympian, won a gold medal in the high jump. In his mind’s eye, he sees his Welsh ancestors, and with that, the action segues to the epic story of the Mormon pioneers. A soloist depicting Brigham Young sings with choral accompaniment the rousing number “This Is the Place.”

And the gripping account is depicted of the rescue of the Martin Handcart Company near the Sweetwater River in Wyoming in 1856. Snow falls and an icy river flows (effects achieved by tiny bubbles dropped from above and exuding fog from a recess in the domed stage). Three 18-year-old rescuers carry the sufferers across the river. The narrator comments: “Throughout the ages the prophets of God have spoken of a light that shines in the darkness, a light that leads men to do good. In the hour of adversity and affliction is there a greater light than this?”

That divine light, given to every mortal born into the world, is the underlying theme of this production.

The show has been sold out for some time, but standby tickets are available at the ticket office, Door 4, and can be obtained Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The standby tickets are free and are given out on a first-come-first-served basis while supplies last, with a limit of 10 per person. Remaining performances are at 7 p.m. each evening Feb. 12-15 and 19-22, with matinees scheduled at 2 p.m. Feb. 9, 16 and 23.


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