116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When American Ballet Theatre wants to come to your city, you roll out the Hancher Green carpet. Or perhaps a red, white and blue carpet, since the show will be outdoors on the Fourth of July.
“I see this as one big, huge firecracker for Hancher,” Executive Director Chuck Swanson said, adding that he chose that date because “that’s a national holiday that’s significant to everybody in our country.”
Not only will one of the world’s leading ballet companies be dancing on the lawn outside Hancher’s front doors that night, but the University of Iowa’s venerable performing arts presenter will be announcing its 2021-22 season, as well.
“This will be our big rollout, our big announcement, and I feel like that is a huge Fourth of July celebration. I’m really happy about that,” Swanson said. “I see it as a celebration of Hancher returning back to in-house performances.”
It all came out of the blue.
“I’m so proud to say we were the first call (American Ballet Theatre) made,” Swanson noted. “David Lansky, the company’s general manager, called Hancher before they called anywhere else.”
Where: Hancher Green, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City
When: July 4; free dance demonstration at 4 p.m.; gates for ticketed show open at 6:30 p.m., performance at 8 p.m.; rain date July 5
Tickets: $5 plus $5 handling fee online at hancher.uiowa.edu/ until 4 p.m. July 4; after 4 p.m. $10 cash only, on site
Extras: No food vendors, so bring snacks, chairs and blankets
That was toward the end of 2020, “when everybody was down and out,” Swanson said. Like so many other venues, Hancher’s staff was trying to figure out how to bring the arts to audiences and create work for artists in the midst of a pandemic. They already were working on virtual offerings, and were looking ahead toward spring and summer, when they thought they might be able to stage outdoor events.
“And then I get this call from American Ballet Theatre — from David — and I was just over the moon,” Swanson said.
“ … That goes back to our reputation nationally and internationally.”
Hancher has long been known as a top presenter for dance, reaching back to its opening season in 1972-73 when Swanson, then a UI sophomore, saw Rudolf Nureyev perform his setting of “The Sleeping Beauty” in the original Hancher Auditorium, with the National Ballet of Canada.
“History will show that Hancher is known as a dance house,” Swanson said.
So many other troupes would leap onto the Hancher stage over the years, including Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey, the Joffrey and Joffrey II, legendary dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and American Ballet Theatre several times, most recently presenting its “Whipped Cream” ballet in April 2019 on the new Hancher stage.
“We have a relationship with them,” Swanson said of American Ballet Theatre, which also helped seal the upcoming stop on the company’s current summer tour, dubbed “ABT Across America.”
ABT Across America
Hancher is in good company, Swanson noted, as the tour launches July 1 in Lincoln, Neb., moves to Iowa City on July 4, then on to Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, South Carolina and Virginia before ending July 21 at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
The 50-minute program, performed without an intermission, will provide an eclectic array of ballet styles and music.
The pieces, and their descriptions, include Lauren Lovette’s “La Follia Variations,” a work for eight dancers set to music by Francesco Geminiani; Jessica Lang’s “Let Me Sing Forevermore,” a pas de deux blending ballet and jazz vocabulary, set to music sung by Tony Bennett; Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Indestructible Light,” a celebration of American jazz; and a classical pas de deux from the company’s repertoire.
Tickets can be purchased online until 4 p.m. July 4, for $5, with a $5 handling fee. Tickets after 4 p.m. are $10, cash only, on-site. Show time is 8 p.m.
A free demonstration, open to the public, begins at 4 p.m. on the Hancher Green. ABT dancers will teach spectators some movements, and give a sneak peek at some of the choreography they will be performing that night.
Hannah Marshall, 25, a member of the troupe’s Corps de Ballet since 2014, has fond memories of performing at Hancher with “Whipped Cream,” and is looking forward to returning to Iowa City. And performing onstage, live.
“I am so excited, and I'm going to speak for everyone: We are all just so ready. It's been such a long year and a half,” she said by phone from New York, shortly before in-person tour rehearsals were to begin.
“Performing is what we love to do. This tour is really different and I think it's going to be really special. That's a nice way to sort of jump back into getting to be in front of a live audience. We're all just so ready to do it. ”
She got little taste of that, performing a couple of shows in California in late April. She’s also had a taste of performing outdoors at Wolf Trap in Virginia in the past, but “it’s going to be kind of a new experience, to be performing in the outdoor world,” she said.
“I think it’s going to be kind of amazing, especially since we’re going to be in front of beautiful things and beautiful scenery.”
She will be performing in “Indestructible Light.” One group began rehearsing it in October in upstate New York, in a pod, and she and others joined the group in California. The dancers worked on that piece, as well as others in the program.
In June, they started gathering by groups in the company’s New York City studio to put it all together, then were slated to fly to Nebraska for technical rehearsals before launching the public performances there.
She’s been delighted with the “Indestructible Light” experience.
“I don't want to give a corny answer, but it has really just been so exciting — even though there are some things in there that usually make me a little nervous,” she said.
“There's a couple of pirouette turns that we have to do and technical stuff in that ballet, but I think everyone's approach has just been pure excitement just to do anything, that I don't even think that we noticed any challenges,” she said with a laugh.
“But there’s some technical (aspects) that are tricky, and I know in ‘La Follia’ — and I'm not performing that — but I know that's really hard stamina wise, so that’s a challenge for them, and I wish them luck outside.”
She said the best way to prepare for outdoor performances is to do the technical rehearsals outdoors — and to keep hydrated.
The daughter of a professional dancer and former ABT company member, Marshall began dancing at Mommy and Me classes as a toddler, then started taking classes on her own in New York City’s Upper East Side around age 6 or 7 — when she was tall enough to hold onto the barre.
“Then I never stopped,” she said.
She enjoyed working with the young dancers from the Iowa City area in “Whipped Cream,” and is looking forward to seeing children in the upcoming Hancher outdoor audience.
For those who dream of dancing onstage someday, she said her mother gave her the best piece of advice: “Just dance your heart.”
“Have a real sense of why you want to dance,” Marshall added. “Nobody can ever take that away from you.”
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