PROVO, UTAH — Four and a half years after President Thomas S. Monson announced plans for the Provo City Center Temple, some 4,500 youth joined together in song and dance on Saturday night to celebrate the completion of the 150th temple for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I am thrilled to be with you,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told the audience. Recognizing his personal connection to Provo both as a youth and college student and later as BYU president, Elder Oaks spoke of the “countless memorable occasions” he has attended in the Marriott Center at Brigham Young University.

“Now we add to that great list of occasions our gathering here for this cultural celebration preceding the dedication of the Provo City Center Temple,” he said.

“You all look wonderful,” said Elder Kent F. Richards of the Seventy and executive director of the LDS Church’s Temple Department, as he welcomed all to the event. Many other LDS Church leaders attended the event, including youth general auxiliary leaders.

The celebration's theme, “Beauty for Ashes” represented the transformation of the old Provo Tabernacle to a sacred temple after a fire destroyed much of the building in 2010.

Drawing from that theme. youths performed for a Marriott Center capacity crowd and for others watching a live stream in local church buildings and at home on the Internet. Each dance number included hundreds of youths — all from the temple district's wards and stakes in central and south Provo and Springville — in costume dancing on the Marriott Center floor.

“These youth are just wonderful,” said Polly K. Dunn, the director of the cultural celebration. “I think the very act of pulling [the youth] together and doing this celebration helps them to focus on the dedication of this temple.”

Held on the eve of the Provo City Center Temple’s dedication, the event included photos, short videos and dances highlighting the history of the Provo Tabernacle.

“The very first thoughts when I was called, before I even had a committee, … were, this building had an incredible life,” said Dunn. “This building that was built by pioneers without electricity, without power tools, without even running water, it just had such an incredible life. I just felt from the get-go that the program needed to revolve around this building.”

Beginning with the sacrifice and dedication of early Church members young and old, the cultural celebration walked the audience through a timeline of events, sharing the important role the building has played in the community over the years. Much of the program came from stories from the community and people who have had experiences in the building.

“Mostly we took the stories that relate to the building,” Dunn said. Drawing from a line in one of the first videos, Dunn said, “’There’s a lot we can learn from this grand old building and the lives that it has touched.’”

Dubbed as a “place where givers give,” the building had been used as gathering place for Church or civic meetings, service opportunities and cultural events. Whether it was a visit from then-U.S. President William H. Taft, a famous musician such as John Phillip Sousa, Helen Keller or poet Robert Frost, the tabernacle has housed many special guests and events over the years.

“For years, I hope [the youth] remember the spirit they felt tonight, but I hope they remember the hours of their sacrifice, … and the hours they put into it and the feeling that they have — that they accomplished something really worth doing,” Dunn said. “And, to realize they can do good, hard things, because it’s been hours on their part, too.”

One of the participants, Zack Sink, 17, remembers seeing the smoke from the temple as he was sitting on a bus on the way to school. Being a part of the youth celebration has been a way for him to remember the “joy and happiness” that still comes from the renovated building.

“It is a beacon of hope to me in my life,” he said.

For Isai Sanchez, 14, all of the hard work, practices and even learning to dance has been a good experience “because it is for something special. And I can tell future generations I danced for that temple.”

mholman@desnews.com @marianne_holman