Arts & Culture

Gearing up for The Big Splash at Hancher

Hancher, partners, artists unveil plans for 2020 festival

Alex and Aurelia Wallenda, brother and sister performers from the Flying Wallendas, do high wire stunts during the 2001 Freedom Festival in Cedar Rapids. The Walendas will be among the performers at The Big Splash, a three-day celebration focused on the Iowa River in Iowa City, marking the centennial of the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research. Hancher Audiotirum and the city of Iowa City are partnering with the institute for the nearly $1 million festival, slated for Aug. 14 to 16, 2020. (The Gazette)
Alex and Aurelia Wallenda, brother and sister performers from the Flying Wallendas, do high wire stunts during the 2001 Freedom Festival in Cedar Rapids. The Walendas will be among the performers at The Big Splash, a three-day celebration focused on the Iowa River in Iowa City, marking the centennial of the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research. Hancher Audiotirum and the city of Iowa City are partnering with the institute for the nearly $1 million festival, slated for Aug. 14 to 16, 2020. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — High divers will launch from 100 feet above their pool. The Flying Wallendas will perform 50 feet above the Iowa River. A fantastical flotilla will be on the river. Instruments will make music beneath the water. And dancers, bands and spectators will frolic on the dry land around Hancher Auditorium.

But we’ll have to wait more than a year to experience The Big Splash, a three-day celebration embracing the power of the Iowa River that sometimes rages, sometimes glides through the University of Iowa campus.

More than 2 1/2 years in the planning, the projected nearly million-dollar festival will roll out Aug. 14 to 16, 2020, to mark the centennial of the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research (IIHR) — Hydroscience & Engineering program.

The University of Iowa’s world-class research laboratory, which lies downstream of Hancher, has influenced everything from U.S. Navy ship design to community flood resilience and the re-engineering of antiquated sewer systems in St. Louis and London.

The city of Iowa City is partnering with Hancher and the hydroscience facility to unite internationally renowned artists, students and audiences in the massive endeavor. The festival also will be the showpiece for the International Conference on Flood Management, which draws scientists from around the globe to a host city every three years.

Major players behind the scenes and in the spotlight gathered Tuesday afternoon at Hancher to unveil their plans.

Former competitive high-diver Dana Kunze, who holds many championship titles, including the world’s record high-dive from a platform 172 feet in the air, is bringing divers from his Water Show Productions. They’ll attempt a world record for highest dive into a portable tank, diving 101 feet into 9 1/2 feet of water.

“We’ve got to do something real special for this particular celebration,” he said.

Tino Wallenda, a sixth-generation high wire performer, will bring with him nine bloodlines of sixth, seventh and eighth generations of Wallendas, as well as two more who married into the family.

Both sides of his family have been in the circus for 200 years, and for the past 100 have been “best known for walking on a tightrope and doing some unusual things up there,” he said.

They’ll ply their artistry on a 400-foot tightrope across the river, creating pyramids, standing on their heads and riding bicycles on a 5/8-inch tightrope. His daughter, who married into a flying trapeze family, will bring those highflying skills to the event as well.

Tomas Kubinek, whose comical antics have delighted Hancher and Orchestra Iowa audiences, is serving as the festival’s artistic director.

“He’s really the visionary for this,” Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said.

In his typically effusive, exaggerated style, Kubinek said he’s heard “5 million people” will be showing up for the festivities — or maybe 20,000.

“I think the big selling card is that it’s all free,” he said, “and it’s the most amazing party.”

For more information, go to Hancher.uiowa.edu/BigSplash

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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