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Release: April 26, 2002

Hancher’s Millennium Festival commission of Sankai Juku wins Olivier Award in London

A dance production co-commissioned by the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium for it 1999-2000 Millennium Festival was recently honored in the London’s Laurence Olivier Theatre Awards. Sankai Juku’s “Hibiki,” which had its American premiere in Hancher in October 1999, won the 2002 Olivier Award for “Best New Dance Production,” for its performances at Sadler’s Wells in London last spring.

The 26th annual award ceremony at Victoria Palace was broadcast throughout the U.K. on the BBC.

An Artsworld review of the Sadler’s Wells debut last March concluded, “It creates a startling atmosphere of intensity and inwardness which is highly unusual, sometimes disturbing, and makes it utterly distinct from anything in Western dance and theatre. A strange and wonderful experience.”

With the creation of “Hibiki,” Hancher became the first U.S. commissioner of a work by the famed “butoh” company and its director/choreographer, Ushio Amagatsu.

“Hibiki” had its world premiere at the site of its co-commissioner, Theatre de la Ville in Paris, in December 1998. Hancher’s Judy Hurtig, who is now interim co-director of the auditorium, 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.”

Following the Hancher performance, “Hibiki” was seen at other venues in the United States and became an often-performed part of the company’s international touring repertory -- including the U.K. premiere at Sadler’s Wells, which has presented Sankai Juku performances for more than 20 years.

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.

Former Hancher Director Wallace Chappell, now executive director of American Ballet Theater in New York, explained that the Sankai Juku 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 was consistent with the long-standing tradition of the UI 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.”

Gary A. and Ladonna K. Wicklund and the National Endowment for the Arts were Hancher’s major commissioning sponsors of “Hibiki,” through the University of Iowa Foundation.

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>.