University of Iowa Dance Gala ‘In Motion’ to return to Hancher mainstage

Dance Gala 2022, ‘In Motion,’ is returning to Hancher Auditorium for the first time since 2019 due to the ongoing pandemic. The performance focuses on themes of mental health and contains five choreographed pieces by the University of Iowa Department of Dance and guest artist FLOCK.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Hancher Auditorium is seen on Sunday, July 10, 2022.

Anaka Sanders, Arts Reporter

On the main Hancher Auditorium stage for the first time since 2019, University of Iowa dancers and choreographers plan to bring Dance Gala to life using themes of mental health in the production In Motion.

 Eloy Barragán, an associate professor in the Department of Dance and director of the 2022 Dance Gala, said the gala was their biggest production of the year. As a choreographer of over 15 years and three-time gala director, Barragán believes this return to the stage will be a celebration of expression in a diverse way.

 “It’s been so long to not be in the theater,” Barragán said. “To see people going out and seeing different expressions of each artist and meeting in one place is a privilege and sometimes a fortune.”

Dance Gala will be held at Hancher Auditorium on Nov. 11-12 and will be available online on Nov. 13. The show is presented by Performing Arts at Iowa and features musical performances from the School of Music.

The five choreographer pieces are split into two acts. Act I features the dances Assurance of Things Unseen and Barragán’s own performance Unfinished. Act II begins with the premiere of Espaldar and continues into other pieces such as Three Trios.  

 The title of this year’s Dance Gala was Barragán’s idea that a person can be still, like a dancer in their off-season. But intellectually and physically, they are still moving.

“For Dance Gala — all the time that is quiet, we keep moving,” Barragán said. “This Gala is always alive, is moving, is in action. For me, that’s to be alive. The production is not just every year we forget about it and then just a few months before coming back again, it keeps moving, keeps evolving, keeps changing with the times.”

Barragán’s piece in the gala Unfinished was inspired by schizophrenia and his close friend’s brothers who suffered from the disorder. He hopes to honor the people who must fight through not only schizophrenia but other mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

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Another high point in this year’s performance is the collaboration with guest choreographers Florian Lochner and Alice Klock of FLOCK — their co-choreography German-American dance company, founded in 2017. Their dance Three Trios was created with nine UI dancers and focuses on themes of determination and care.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Lochner and Klock noted that they are known for their non-binary partnering and unique approach to physicality and storytelling. In Three Trios they will display this choreography through three small communities and how they are upheld through their individuality.

University of Iowa Contemporary Dance Professor and Director of Dance Production Armando Duarte connected the UI with FLOCK, originally brought them in as guest instructors, and now to create a piece for the gala.

Duarte is a previous director of the gala and has choreographed dances for most of his 30 years at Iowa. For In Motion, his piece Espaldar is literally translated from Portuguese to English as “the back of a chair.” In addition to the definition, he also includes the process of leaning against the chair and finding support.

Inspired by the 1940s during World War II, Duarte took the idea of being forced to stay inside, locked down, and connected it with dance. With eight dancers he explores the theme of being stuck in a place where it is known that there is something dangerous or life-threatening happening outside, but there is no way out.

“If I had to be inside, I want to have chairs that will be used as props, but most important will help me to set the space in which this piece will take place,” Duarte said. “A dining room, a living room, a waiting room – places where we sit and wait.”

Duarte is the most excited for the students. He said after watching them work so hard for the last few months, it makes him want to work harder.

Alyssa Alber, a senior BFA student in dance, is participating in her third gala, but first on the mainstage because of the pandemic. Since her freshman year, she has been told this is the biggest dance event of the year and she sees it as such.

She is participating in Barragán’s piece Unfinished about mental health, as well as FLOCK’s Three Trios. For Unfinished, she wanted to find ways the dance could connect to her own life.

“I have anxiety, and sometimes I feel like I can’t control it in some respects,” Alber said. “I could relate to it where you feel like you’re going crazy sometimes where you’re like, ‘I need to calm down. It’s fine. I’m okay.’”

The Dance Gala will be Alber’s first performance in a theater and with an audience of Hancher’s size, which has 1,800 seats. She described it as “surreal.”

“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Alber said. “I think I’m just excited for the experience and to try to soak it all in in the moment.”