Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Glenn Edgerton recalls the “daunting” experience of being a young dancer stepping solo onto Hancher’s vast stage.
“I walked out there alone and was just petrified,” Edgerton says, artistic director for Hubbard Street, but a member of the Joffrey II company at that time. “Stepping out on such a big stage really felt like quite a daunting and intimidating experience.”
Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson recalls the electricity in the air as the curtain rose Dec. 10, 1987, on the “Nutcracker” ballet commissioned for the Hancher stage.
“It was such a community spirit sort of thing,” he says, from all the local donors to the young Eastern Iowa dancers joining the Joffrey professionals onstage.
“That ‘Nutcracker’ still lives today and every time it’s performed, 50 to 60 little kids have that experience,” Swanson says.
With the University of Iowa on the brink of building another Hancher stage, such iconic memories will be celebrated Sept. 4 with a free outdoor performance by Hubbard Street’s contemporary dance troupe.
Swanson encourages the public to come early and bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnics to enjoy the festivities on the green space in front of Hancher Auditorium, closed since the Floods of 2008. The lawn outside the building will literally leap to life as the high-energy contemporary dance troupe springs to the stage.
Audiences will see “quite an eclectic program,” says Edgerton, 51, of Chicago. “The first piece is ‘Following the Subtle Current Upstream,’ … very wonderful, very powerful in its movement. Next is a duet from our second company, ‘I Can See Myself in Your Pupil,’ also showing a characterization and personality from these two dancers that’s really quite light and fun for the audience.
“Then we have a piece to the music of ‘Bolero,’ which will be quite recognizable and also a very fun, humorous piece about the relationships happening between characters,” he says.
The final work, “Too Beaucoup,” lasts about 38 minutes and features what Edgerton calls “a unique look, with all the dancers in white bodysuits and white wigs.”
“All of them either look like robots or androgynous creatures,” he says. “It’s non-stop pure energy and physicality with music almost like a rock band.”
Former Hancher intern Sarah Gonsiorowski, 22, is especially looking forward to “Too Beaucoup.” A recent University of Iowa graduate now dancing in Milwaukee, she learned parts of that piece this summer during an intensive study program at the Hubbard Dance studios in Chicago.
“The movement is so interesting and the transitions in the movement are so unexpected,” she says. “It’s really exciting for audience members to watch, and it’s fun to do and challenging.”
That exemplifies Hubbard Street’s niche in modern dance and mirrors Hancher’s mission, as well.
“We’re always making new works, innovating and creating what’s new and what’s next,” Edgerton says. “It’s important to evolve the form forward, so we’re always searching for what is the next new wave, and the only way to find that is by creating.”
Fittingly, the event launches Hancher’s new season, celebrating the structure’s storied past and highly anticipated future. The kickoff event will allow people to remember Hancher as it was before it is torn down and rebuilt on higher ground nearby. It’s targeted for completion by December 2015.
Swanson, 58, of Coralville, has made his peace with the past.
“I’ve come to the point that I’m so excited about what lies ahead,” he says. “I think I said goodbye a while ago to the building, but because of this event, I’ve been thinking more about it. We had 36 years of great stuff that happened inside that building. Former (UI) president Sandy Boyd always talked about Hancher being the largest classroom on campus. It held some of the most wonderful performances by some of the world’s finest artists.”
“We don’t really know when that building is coming down, so we as a staff felt like this is the time to do this,” he says of the farewell nod. “Hubbard Street has such a history with Hancher, with world premieres and commissions. They are so excited about this final performance at the Hancher building.”
“We feel really honored to be celebrating the theater as it goes to its next phase,” he says. “We’re really excited to be the ones representing the goodbye to Hancher as we know it right now.”
— Diana Nollen