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Release: Oct. 2, 2000

(NOTE TO EDITORS: This is one in a series of stories that revisit the commissioned works that were part of the 1999-2000 Millennium Festival at the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium. We will document how the works have developed or changed, where they have been performed, what the critics have said, and in some cases how the artists themselves gauge the works.)


Hancher's Sankai Juku's commission expressed UI's international vision

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The shaved heads, white-powdered bodies and intensely ritualized movements of Japan’s Sankai Juku became familiar images of contemporary dance during the last decades of the 20th century. But despite the company’s world-wide popular and critical acclaim, its work had never been created through an American commission -- until the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium’s 1999-2000 Millennium Festival. The results were presented on the Hancher stage with the American premiere "Hibiki" on Oct. 1 and 2, 1999

Hancher Director Wallace Chappell explains that the commission was an expression of the UI’s international vision: "Hancher conceives of itself as a research and development center for the arts, and our commission of Sankai Juku is consistent with the long-standing tradition of the University of Iowa in supporting not only the creative arts, but also international understanding.

"Hancher is committed to supporting artistry of the highest possible caliber on a worldwide basis. As Sankai Juku is one of the finest contemporary dance ensembles, and Hancher has consistently presented dance, theatre and music ensembles of the Pacific Rim, it was appropriate to continue this tradition by commissioning a new work from Sankai Juku. American commissioners often do not look beyond our shores, but I consider it part of our leadership role to pursue a more global perspective."

Following the Hancher performance, "Hibiki" was seen at other venues in the United States and has become an often-performed part of the company’s international touring repertory.

Seattle Times dance critic Mary Murfin Bayley wrote, "In some ways "Hibiki," given by the Japanese butoh dance company Sankai Juku last night, did not feel at all like a performance. The six men, their faces and bodies matted in rice powder, seemed more like practitioners of strange (though oddly familiar) rites transformed by director and choreographer Ushio Amagatsu into an evening of eerie beauty."

Reviewer David Schmader commented, "‘Hibiki’ should cement Sankai Juku’s stature as one of the world’s most accomplished and inventive dance companies."

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

The Hancher Millennium Festival was the most extensive and ambitious performing-arts millennium celebration in the United States. The season-spanning festival featured more than 20 major commissions in music, theater and dance.

In addition to "Hibiki," new works were presented by theater visionary Robert Lepage; choreographers Paul Taylor, UI alumnus Lar Lubovitch, Susan Marshall, Bill T. Jones, Twyla Tharp and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar; and composers including Richard Danielpour, Michael Daugherty, Paul Schoenfield and UI alumnus David Lang.

Performances of the commissioned works were presented by prominent ensembles including American Ballet Theatre, the Kronos Quartet, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, 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.

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