A bright new semester: Hancher kicks off UI school year with an outdoor light show

Hancher Illuminated utilizes an outdoor performance space, innovative lighting, and the UI dance department to create a unique community event. This Friday, UI students can attend “student night” for a discounted price.

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Justin Torner - Staff Photograph

Hancher Illuminated Dancing at Hancher Quixotic and Department of Dance Thursday, October 15, 2020

Jenna Post, Arts Editor


Attending a show at Hancher Auditorium typically comes with being seated in the building’s spacious theater. This time, however, audience members will view Hancher from the outside.

Beginning this Friday, Hancher will host its second Hancher Illuminated event, which transforms the building’s exterior into a colorfully lit stage for University of Iowa dancers.

Last year, Hancher teamed up with the UI Dance Department and Quixotic, a performance collective, to create a live performance event that could maintain COVID-19 safety guidelines. This year, the team behind Hancher Illuminated hopes the event will gain a larger audience now that COVID-19 vaccines are available.

While some elements will remain the same as last year’s event, Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson said there are some new surprises.

“We’ve had our toe in the water already,” he said. “This year we’re going to be changing and adding things, but it also isn’t brand new to us, so it’s going to be an even better show.”

The Hancher team aims to cater to students at the university by making opening night “student night.” Students can purchase tickets at the discounted price of $5.

During the week of Aug 30, Hancher is also having a “Hancher is for Hawkeyes” sale. During the week, students can purchase tickets in person to several future Hancher events for $5.

Swanson said he and his team wanted to make students feel valued after losing a year of in-person schooling to COVID-19.

“I’ve been at Hancher for 36 years and I don’t remember having something specific for students,” Swanson said. “It’s our gift to welcome students back to school.”

Swanson has figuratively put the spotlight on student audience members, and literally put the spotlight on student dancers, who will be positioned in strategic locations around all 360 degrees of the building.

He said he views Hancher as a learning lab and is happy to present students with opportunities relevant to their future careers.

“When we can get students to perform with professionals and give them the opportunity to experience what they’re trying to achieve,–” he said. “I don’t think it gets better than that.”

Associate Director of the UI Dance Company Alex Bush said the ability to perform on the Hancher Illuminated “stage” showcases the versatility of dancers.

“As dance artists, we’re built to adapt to new environments,” Bush said. “We do it all the time, so we’re excited to be a part of something like this.”

The performers are also proving their adaptability by having less than a week to rehearse. Rehearsals began Aug. 23, but Bush said she isn’t concerned because she’s confident in the group’s ability to do improvisational dance.

Bush said improvisational dance is similar to improvisational jazz than improv comedy. Dancers can decide what fits the music and go from there.

“The dancers are responding to a prompt or following a score in real time,” Bush said. “They’re often playing off of each other’s choices and things that happen in the moment and creating the performance on the spot as the audience watches.”

It’s been over a year since many of these dancers were able to perform live due to COVID-19. Bush said she’s excited to see live dance return in an innovative setting.

“The cool thing about this performance is that it’s an experience that really washes over you,” Bush said. “It’s not the kind of thing where you just sit and watch a show.”

Bush is also excited to see the lighting choices made by Quixotic this year, after seeing last year’s event, she said.

“The things they do with lights are really magical and surreal. It’s otherworldly, really,” she said.

Quixotic Executive Producer Mica Thomas said he was happy to work with Hancher again because of their close working relationship and Hancher’s commitment to putting on a show with COVID-19 concerns in mind.

“We’re all finding out how to make live performance work during these new times,” Thomas said. “This was inspired by finding a creative way to let people become inspired by performance art while also being safe during COVID.”

The Quixotic team is no stranger to putting on shows in uncommon locations. They once projected a video onto the entirety of the exterior of Union Station in Kansas City, she said.

Thomas said the team enjoys site-specific work because it pushes them to come up with out-of-the-box ideas to accommodate unique spaces.

“Every unique location has its inherent challenges, and that’s what makes it exciting,” Thomas said. “As you approach the project, you think about what’s going to work and what’s not going to work, and you get to find creative ways to work around that.”

Hancher Illuminated takes place Aug 27-28. Student night begins at 9:30 p.m. and general admission night begins at 8:30 p.m. Several half-hour tours will take place throughout the course of the event.

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