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University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 18, 2006

Update: Hancher's 'Crazy' Joffrey 'River-To-River' Tour Coming Together

"We've done some ambitious and risky projects over the years, but this is by far the craziest thing we have ever done," says Charles Swanson, executive director of the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium.

He's talking about next summer, when Hancher will tour the Joffrey Ballet "River-to-River" in Iowa, with free, outdoor performances around the Independence Day holiday in Des Moines (June 29), Council Bluffs (July 1), Muscatine (July 3), Cedar Rapids (July 6) and Iowa City (July 7). No matter how crazy the idea may be, all systems are go: The fundraising, logistics and technical details are all on course -- if only the weather will now cooperate.

Nan Krause of West Des Moines and longtime Joffrey board member Mary Keough Lyman of Iowa City have been named co-chairs of the 35th anniversary celebration. The Joffrey production staff has traveled to each of the communities with Hancher staff to meet local sponsors and inspect the venues. The experienced Michigan production company Levitation Staging Inc. -- -- has been contracted to design and build the technically complex portable stage. More than $700,000 has already been raised. And programming selections are being made to emphasize the fruits of the three-decade Hancher/Joffrey relationship.

Swanson and Hancher's artistic director, Judith Hurtig, hatched this idea last year, while waiting in an airport between flights back from a professional meeting. "We were talking about what we could do to celebrate Hancher's 35th anniversary," Hurtig explains. "Hancher was built by and belongs to the people of Iowa, and not just to the people in the eastern part of the state who live close enough to attend events.

"So we were asking, what can we do to give an anniversary gift to the whole state, and we realized that if they couldn't come here, we would have to go there."

Swanson adds, "So we began thinking about the artists most intimately connected with Hancher's history and, of course, the obvious answer was the Joffrey Ballet, a company with which we have done residencies and commissions and major world premieres like 'The Nutcracker' and 'Billboards,' and which has presented more than 100 Iowa performances under our sponsorship and has performed during 17 of Hancher's 35 years."

Bringing the vision to reality required not only the buy-in of the Joffrey Ballet -- whose leadership embraced the idea with enthusiasm as part of their 50th anniversary -- but identifying communities and venues, forming new partnerships, nurturing new sources of funding and, as they soon learned, becoming pioneers in dance touring.

When Swanson and Hurtig turned to their colleagues in the arts presenting industry for expertise in mounting such a tour, they discovered that the expertise simply did not exist because no one had ever attempted an outdoor tour with a major ballet company. In the past, Hancher's management was out front in presenter commissioning, commission networking and innovative statewide partnerships including the SPOT project, and now they are trailblazers again.

With the involvement of Hancher's production manager, Ken Schumacher, and his staff, research was undertaken to find a production company capable of surmounting the challenge of designing, building and transporting a stage that must function in five different terrains and be quickly moved between venues. After they settled on Levitation Staging -- which has mounted everything from outdoor concerts (including one on a beach with no access roads) to trade shows to commencements to half-time spectacles - everyone involved started a schedule of intense meetings, emails and phone calls.

"I'm so pleased with how the initial interactions have gone with the Joffrey and Levitation," Swanson says. "Everyone seems to have the attitude that this is a monumental task that requires cooperation on all fronts. I feel a real team spirit.

"Jon Teeuwissen, the executive director of the Joffrey; Adam Sklute and Cameron Basden, the associate artistic directors; Greg Stuart, the operations manager; and Michael Curry, the production manager spent a long weekend with us touring the five sites and meeting with people from each community. The advance tour couldn't have gone better. Then in August, Tommy Allen from Levitation came with his laser level so we could do another tour of the tour with Ken Schumacher."

Hurtig adds, "The Joffrey people are completely engaged in the planning and after last summer's 'tour of the tour' with their key people, they are really excited. In fact they have decided to involve the entire company, rather than the 16 dancers we originally envisioned. And we have now added an education component in each community with a movement class taught by the Joffrey's education director, who will also act a guide for observers during the Joffrey's own warm-up and class."

Schumacher now estimates that each performance will include the work of more than 100 Hancher, Joffrey and Levitation staff, and that does not include the many community volunteers at each site. And he is estimating that the preparation, presentation and tear-down of the five performances will require something in excess of 2,000 worker hours of local stage labor.

"This is big," Swanson says with an evident combination of excitement and trepidation. "We knew it was big, but I think we're just beginning to realize how big it is."

Although the Joffrey River-to-River Tour, Hancher's 35th anniversary gift to Iowa, is on track for next summer, it's not too late to become one of the supporters of this unique project. For information contact Swanson at

For more background details, check out the announcement of the project last March:

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073; cell: 310-430-1013;