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Release: March 8, 2001

Rinde Eckert and Paul Dresher Ensemble return to UI

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Rinde Eckert and the Paul Dresher Ensemble will return to the University of Iowa to perform "Ravenshead," which USA Today proclaimed the "Best New Opera of 1998," at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, March 27 and 28, in the Hancher Loft.

Hancher Loft is an intimate performance setting in which the audience is seated on the Hancher stage, limiting the total seating for each performance to 250. Entrance to the Hancher Loft is through the Stage Door, near the loading dock on the west side of the building.

Eckert, an Iowa City native and UI alumnus, has become a certified New York star since the last of his many visits to Hancher. One of the reasons is the critical and popular response to the
high-intensity production of "Ravenshead," composed by Steven Mackey, a faculty member at Princeton University, and written by Eckert.

The production, directed by Tony Taccone, artistic director of the Tony-winning Berkeley Repertory Theatre, is a tour-de-force, one-character opera based on the true misadventures of Donald Crowhurst, an English businessman who set out, woefully unprepared, in a race to circumnavigate the globe in a solo sailboat. Recognizing his hopeless situation and losing his grip on reality, Crowhurst faked logbooks to indicate he was winning the race before he disappeared at sea, probably a suicide, leaving his craft a ghost ship.

Praising Eckert for a "full and rounded performance . . . as compelling musically as dramatically," James R. Oestreich of the New York Times wrote, "Eckert climbed, dangled, dodged and danced, hauntingly depicting not only the physical trials of the misbegotten journey but also the unraveling of a mind and personality."

A review in American Theatre magazine concluded, "‘Ravenshead’ had its New York audience hanging on the edge of their seats. The intellectual audacity of this new work signals a
21st century full of possibilities for new musical theater."

A review in the New York Press said of the music, " Mackey’s score traffics in sweet, swirling, tonalism spiced with minimalist runs. And it’s very postmodern in its use of quotations: I picked up chunks of psychedelia, drones and Beatles melodies woven into his score. Add a dash of Indiana Jones and you start to get a sense of the densely packed landscape. ‘Ravenshead’ was equal parts MTV video and Metropolitan Opera."

A Los Angeles Times review added, " Ravenshead is an intricate mix of competing music. Mackey provides Eckert and Dresher’s virtuosic band of guitar, violin, saxophone, keyboards and percussion with exciting challenges. Weird scales and harmonies, along with uncomfortable rhythms, keep the listener off balance. There is the energy of rock music. It may be too soon to say whether ‘Ravenshead’ will ultimately hold up as opera beyond this inspired production or whether it is perishable performance art. But whatever it is, it is astonishing."

Eckert, whose father was the long-time head of the UI voice faculty, graduated from the UI School of Music after a student career that ranged from the lead in "Man of La Mancha" to performances with the Center for New Music and experimental theater productions.

After graduate school at Yale University, Eckert established his unique performance-art career in the San Francisco Bay area, working not only with the Paul Dresher Ensemble but with innovative director George Coates and choreographer Margaret Jenkins. He quickly gained a reputation as a charismatic theatrical performer, recording artist, composer, lyricist, playwright, multi-instrumentalist and singer.

Following a Hancher performance of the Dresher/Eckert rock-opera masterpiece "Slow Fire," Hancher Auditorium became heavily involved in presenting and commissioning their work, including "Power Failure," "Pioneer" and "Awed Behavior."

Hancher was the site of a Dresher world premiere performed by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and his ensemble presented a concert, "Looking West to the East" in 1994.

Eckert performed in Hancher with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in1989, and returned to Hancher with several of his own works: the Hancher-commissioned premiere of
"The Gardening of Thomas D," the world premiere of "The Idiot Variations," and "Romeo, Sierra Tango," commissioned for the New York Shakespeare Festival.

Eckert was a Partnership in the Arts guest artist of the UI department of theatre arts in 1999, preparing the world premiere of "A Tale We Told the Queen on the Evening of the Fourth Day of Our Journey to the East" on the University Theatres Mainstage season.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen is the corporate sponsor of "Ravenshead," through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Tickets for are $28 ($10 for UI students, $22.40 for senior citizens and $14 for audience members 17 and younger) from the Hancher box office.

Box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 335-1160. Long distance 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. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at

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.

For UI arts information, visit <> on the World Wide Web. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <>. Learn more about "Ravenshead" at <>.