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Release: Sept. 10, 1999

Hancher Sankai Juku's first American commissioner, with U.S. premiere of 'Hibiki'

(NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: Butoh is pronounced boo-toh.)

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The shaved heads, white-powdered bodies and intensely ritualized movements of Japan's Sankai Juku have become indelible images of contemporary dance during the last decades of the 20th century, but despite the Butoh company's world-wide popular and critical acclaim, its work has never been created through an American commission. The University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium has now corrected that oversight for its 1999-2000 Millennium Festival, and the results will be presented on the Hancher stage with the Sankai Juku American premiere of artistic director Ushio Amagatsu's "Hibiki" at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 1 and 2.

"Hibiki" had its world premiere at the site of its co-commissioner, Theatre de la Ville in Paris, in December 1998. Hancher Assistant Director Judy Hurtig traveled to France for the premiere to represent the UI, the state of Iowa and Hancher's supporters, and she wrote of the experience, "As the dancers were taking their bows -- to tumultuous applause -- I was filled with pride that we, all of us, have played an important role in bringing this work to the stage.

"It is a work of such large ambition, in which the movement, music and lighting are tightly integrated. Ushio Amagatsu sets his vision on the biggest issues of creation, life, reconciliation, death and the possibility of rebirth. Time seems to slip away; at some point you become aware that you've lost all sense of the passage of time, and you've slowly entered this work that is filled with powerful images."

Sankai Juku and Amagatsu are part of the second generation of Butoh dancers in Japan. Butoh is a new Japanese art form that evolved during the 1960s as an expression of humanitarian awareness by that country's post-war generation, particularly in response to the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Butoh dancers rejected the traditional forms of Eastern and Western dance in search of a powerful, athletic and immediate expression appropriate to a new Japan and the new world of potential apocalypse.

Before he worked in the Butoh style, Amagatsu trained in classical and modern dance. In 1976, he started a series of workshops that led to the idea of Sankai Juku. He chose three dancers from the workshop to help create the Sankai Juku, which means "studio of mountain and sea," and their enigmatic performances and outdoor happenings created an international sensation. Unearthly images of Sankai Juku appeared in virtually every arts and news magazine around the world.

Critics have always struggled to describe Sankai Juku performances, whose style and content fall outside of conventional dance terminology. Deborah Jowitt of the Village Voice called Sankai Juku "a luminous rite -- slow, enigmatic, beautiful!" "Hypnotically beguiling" was David Patrick Stearn's choice of words in USA Today. UI alumna Judith Green, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, described Sankai Juku as "a world of unearthly beauty," and Jay Cocks of Time magazine wrote, "The singular glory of Sankai Juku is that it achieves almost pure metaphor."

Gary A. and Ladonna K. Wicklund and the National Endowment for the Arts are the major commissioning sponsors of "Hibiki," through the University of Iowa Foundation.

The Hancher Millennium Festival has emerged as the most extensive and ambitious performing-arts millennium celebration in the United States. The season-spanning festival features 20 major commissions in music, theater and dance, with 15 of the commissioned works and productions receiving their world or American premieres in Hancher. (The number of commissions recently increased, with the finalizing of the Kronos Quartet programs.)

In addition to the "Hibiki," new works have been created -- or are being created -- by theater visionary Robert Lepage; choreographers Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, UI alumnus Lar Lubovitch, Susan Marshall, Bill T. Jones, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar; and composers Richard Danielpour, Michael Daugherty, Paul Schoenfield, and UI alumnus David Lang.

Performances of the commissioned works will be presented by prominent ensembles including American Ballet Theatre, Twyla Tharp Dance, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bang on a Can, the Kronos Quartet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, the Ahn Trio and the Ethos Percussion Group.

Tickets for Sankai Juku are $35, $30 and $25. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20-percent discount, with Zone 3 tickets available to UI students for $10. Tickets for audience members 17 and younger are half price.

Tickets may be purchased at a substantial discount as part of Hancher's volume-purchase plan. A simultaneous purchase of three to five events qualifies for a 15-percent discount, and a simultaneous purchase of six or more events qualifies for a 20-percent discount.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

The entire 1999-2000 Hancher season -- including the season-spanning Millennium Festival -- is detailed in a free brochure, "At This Moment," which is available from the Hancher administrative offices (319-335-1130) or the Hancher box office.

Learn more about Sankai Juku and "Hibiki" on the World Wide Web at <>. Downloadable images of Sankai Juku are available at <>.

For UI arts news and information, and arts calendar updates, visit the ArtsIowa website, <