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Release: Sept. 8, 2000

(NOTE TO EDITORS: This is the first 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.)

ONE YEAR AFTER THE MILLENNIUM (FESTIVAL)

Hancher-commissioned ‘Geometry of Miracles’ has continued to develop and perplex on tour

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The 1999-2000 Millennium Festival at the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium opened with the Sept. 8-11 U.S. premiere of "Geometry of Miracles" by Quebec director Robert Lepage and his Ex Machina theater company.

Lepage, who has been hailed as one of the theater visionaries of the late 20th century, combined dance, music, theater and innovative stagecraft to examine a little-explored aspect of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s life -- the influence of Russian/Serbo-Croatian mystic Georgei Gurdjieff through Wright’s third wife, Olgivanna. Lepage’s production viewed Wright and his art completely through the eyes of Gurdjieff, family members and apprentices, depicting art’s perpetual struggle between the material and the spiritual.

"Geometry of Miracles" premiered in Toronto more than a year before its U.S. premiere in Hancher, drawing mixed reviews. The Toronto Globe and Mail critic described "imagery so intense it’s breathtaking," and a review by Kerryn Chan in the Flying Inkpot concluded, "Lepage has been honoured many times over for his vision and creative talent, and he deserves every one of them. Personally, this work has confirmed one nagging suspicion that I have had for a long time -- Lepage IS a genius!" The production shared the 1999 Inkpot Theatre Award for Best Performance.

But another Toronto review in Upstaged called the piece "a frustrating, shapeless mess. . . a big disappointment," and the production made Eye magazine’s list of 1998 "Disappointments."

Lepage has a reputation for continuously developing and refining his productions through performance. Hancher Director Wallace Chappell, who viewed the Toronto premiere says the "Geometry of Miracles" that came to the UI was "much improved" as a result of Lepage’s refinements as the show toured to the Salzburg Festival and other venues in Europe.

"It was always visually fascinating -- alternately disturbing and quite beautiful -- both times I saw it," Chappell explains. "But the growth of the script was successful and needed. I do remember feeling that there was still work to be done when it left here."

Lepage’s touring agent, Menno Plucker, says that although Lepage’s productions are always "works in progress" throughout their runs, "Geometry of Miracles" took much longer to gel because Lepage was working with many young performers with whom he had not worked before. "This show really took a year to come together," Plucker explains. "But at a certain point we all felt that it turned the corner, and in the end Robert was very happy with the result."

Since the Hancher performance, "Geometry of Miracles" has carried its Iowa imprimatur around the world, including performances at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Performing Arts Chicago; the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in Boston; the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York; the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain in Glasgow, Scotland; the Israel Festival in Jerusalem; venues throughout Europe; and even to Singapore. The production was given its final performances in June of 2000.

Reviews became more positive as the show developed, but continued to be mixed, with lavish praise for Lepage’s visual inventiveness and reservations about the success of the narrative.

When Lepage brought the production home to Quebec, Alvina Ruprecht of the CBC concluded, "Lepage is investigating the whole creative process here in a performance of self-doubt and constant questioning. There were moments I felt that these visual and spatial events created an extraordinary poetry. But Lepage's intellectual pretensions don’t nearly come up to the level of his visual imagination."

A review in Woodstock electronic magazine stated, "this production takes experimental theater to higher ground. . . The production has a quality that can only be experienced first hand." The critic of the Staten Island Advance called the production "often wildly funny, if precariously complex. . . scattered but provocative and entertaining."

Lepage has since created a new solo performance piece, "The Far Side of the Moon," which has been drawing rave reviews. He was booked to perform the work later this season in Hancher, but tour-scheduling problems forced the cancellation of the engagement.

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 "Geometry of Miracles," new works were presented by choreographers Twyla Tharp, Paul Taylor, UI alumnus Lar Lubovitch, Susan Marshall, Bill T. Jones, Ushio Amagatsu and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar; and composers including Richard Danielpour, Michael Daugherty, Paul Schoenfield, UI alumnus David Lang and Mexico’s Gabriela Ortiz. Performances of the commissioned works were presented by prominent ensembles including American Ballet Theatre, the Kronos Quartet, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Bang on a Can, Sankai Juku, 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.

The commission of "The Geometry of Miracles" was supported by Marvin A. and Rose Lee Pomerantz of Des Moines. Other commissioning and production support came from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Hancher Millennium Fund, the Hancher Enrichment Fund and Hancher’s annual giving program, which is known as Hancher Circle.

For UI arts information, visit this new address -- www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa -- on the World Wide Web. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, contact <deborah-thumma@uiowa.edu>.