The iconic presence of Mount Timpanogos in Utah County is a familiar sight to many who live beneath its massive brow.
What some don't know about the mountain, however, is the legend that surrounds it and lives at its heart. Utah Regional Ballet, a professional ballet company, will retell the tale of Mt. Timpanogos through dance as it presents "Legend of Timpanogos" on Friday and Saturday at the Covey Center for the Arts.
"Legend of Timpanogos," choreographed by Jacqueline Colledge, artistic director for Utah Regional Ballet, has become one of the company's most requested and beloved ballets. It has been performed numerous times since its premiere in 1992 in such far-off places as China, Austria and Germany, and also was showcased at the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Miss. The ballet is performed with Native American-styled costuming and music.
"Over the years, 'Legend' has burned a special place in my heart and the hearts of the many dancers who have performed it," Colledge said. "There is also a spirit surrounding this ballet that makes it appealing to audiences around the world. The dramatic love triangle seems to leave a lasting effect."
The ballet, which took 10 years to finalize, started as an idea in Colledge's mind as she listened to her fourth-grade teacher tell the Native American legend of love and death on Mt. Timpanogos.
"At the time, I didn't realize it," Colledge said, "but while everyone was listening to the story in class, I was seeing it -- I was envisioning the pageantry and music and dance. It was all unfolding as I sat there."
Years later, the memory would inspire Colledge to create a new ballet.
"Legend of Timpanogos" is the retelling of a Nez Perce Indian legend about a young Indian maiden, Ucanogos, who falls in love with a brave, Timpanac, from a neighboring tribe. Other braves are vying for the affection of Ucanogos -- one in particular named Red Feather -- and to decide who will win the hand of Ucanogos, the tribal chief issues three challenges: kill an animal using bare hands, race around the lake, and climb to the top of the mountain. As the braves race up the mountain in the final challenge, Timpanac is ambushed at the top and pushed to his death. A heartbroken Ucanogos offers her spirit to the Earth and dies in her father's -- the chief's -- arms. The two lovers are united in death and their spirits embrace, creating what is now known as the Heart of Timpanogos -- a heart-shaped stalactite in Timpanogos Cave.
Some of the principal dancers in the ballet include Joni Tuttle and Rachelle Jardine as Ucanogos, and Christopher Young and Brian Debes as Timpanac. Debes, who danced the role of Timpanac 10 years ago with URB, has a personal connection to Mt. Timpanogos and is excited to return as a more mature dancer and perform in the ballet that brings to life the mountain's local legend.
"I grew up hiking around the foothills of Timpanogos," Debes said, "and had a beautiful view of the mountain out the front window of our home in Orem where I went to high school. That mountain is a symbol of home for me and a symbol of Utah County to many."