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Celebration of light, life to be held for Olympics

In anticipation of the world descending on Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Games, the Church is producing a multi-media theatrical and musical production unparalleled in this faith's history — the scope of which will turn the Conference Center into a state-of-the-art theater with a 130-foot domed stage.

Performers in costumes of many nations reflect international scope of Church's production, "Light of the World, Celebration of Life."

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Performers in costumes of many nations reflect international scope of Church's production, "Light of the World, Celebration of Life." . Photo: Courtesy Church Public Affairs

"Light of the World, A Celebration of Life," which will open Feb. 7, 2002, and run 10 days while the Games are ongoing, will feature more than 1,500 participants, including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square, 5,000 lights (including 400 motorized lights), some 2,000 costumes and flying rigs to enable performers to "fly" through the air and rotate 360 degrees. In addition, the music, which will also be presented by BYU performing groups and community groups (including an international children's choir), is an original score written by five renowned LDS composers who have chosen to remain anonymous.

The production will take the audience on a journey — complete with drama, song and dance — with several individuals as they discover their paths in life and realize their "light within." At times, performers will move between the audience and the stage, effecting the impression of one moving through the various stages of life. Aiding this effect will be images larger than those shown on IMAX screens projected in the auditorium. "Light of the World" will also reflect the international nature of the Olympic games, with costumes and dance from cultures throughout the world.

With the audience capacity of the Conference Center at 20,000, there is the possibility of some 200,000 seeing "Light of the World." Tickets for the production go on sale for $5 each on Oct. 9; there is a limit of 10 tickets per person. (Please see box on this page for information on how to purchase tickets and performance dates.)

In a press preview held Sept. 19 in the Conference Center, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve said "Light of the World" will celebrate life and the universal light within each individual that inspires greatness.

"In the wake of last week's tragic events," he told representatives of the media, referring to the terrorist attacks on America, "we believe this light has burned even more brightly and intensely in the hearts and minds of Americans and others throughout the world. This production will celebrate light and our fervent belief there is a universal light within each individual that inspires us to achieve, and, against all odds, accomplish the seemingly impossible in our lives."

As example, Elder Hales related the account of one of the individual stories to be told in "Light of the World," that of John Stephen Akhwari, a marathon runner from Tanzania who competed in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and who came in last, far behind the other runners. He was later asked, Elder Hales related, why he finished a race he had no chance of winning. "You do not understand," the athlete responded. "My country did not send me to start the race. They sent me to finish the race."

Dallyn Vail Bayles and Al Harrington perform at preview.
Dallyn Vail Bayles and Al Harrington perform at preview. Photo: Photo by Michael Brandy

"We were not sent to earth just to be born, but to achieve, serve, to lift others," Elder Hales said. "It is our hope that the 'Light of the World, A Celebration of Life' — the spirit of man and the glory of God — will have a positive effect and one which will lift us to not only understand the light within but also the source of that light."

Elder Hales complimented the "world-class" professionals who are producing "Light of the World," including lighting director John Featherstone, whose credits list contemporary music concerts and lighting design for the NBA All Star Jam Session. Visiting with the Church News after the press preview, he spoke of the challenges that accompany a show of this scale. "It is such a big space that we're really doing several shows at once. [But being part of the production] fills me with pride and humility because we are celebrating His work," said the lighting expert, who is not LDS.

"This Church is welcoming the world to Salt Lake City," he added. "The team that is producing the shows is, indeed, a microcosm of the world. I've had such a great time."

So echoed Al Harrington, who portrays a Native American with a doctorate who advises another character to go back to school. Brother Harrington's other credits include Amaron in the Church film, "Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd," and his role as Ben in "Hawaii Five-O." He said his role "is a wonderful lesson in communication in which we are able to now communicate with each other on different levels. I think this particular production is going to do a fantastic job in letting the world know what [we're] all about."

Costume designer Janet Swenson spoke with the Church News about designing and creating costumes for the past year — without a cast to fit the costumes. When they were finally able to fit the costumes to the performers, she said, with amazement, "it actually miraculously worked out exactly right." They did not need to remake a single costume.

Executive producer Steve Lindsley, who is a founding partner of WOW Digital TV, spoke of the "daunting task" of producing "Light of the World, A Celebration of Life" in the Conference Center auditorium. "The building is a wonderful asset to us. Think of the incredible special effects we can do. At any given time, the stage turns into the universe, or the ocean, or a deep forest. So the multi-media side of this is just phenomenal. Our opportunity is to bring literally hundreds of performers into this facility and make it a wonderful experience."

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