Allie Hankins: ‘on the verge of overflowing’

The Portland choreographer's solo dance concert is a prologue to "better to be alone than to wish you were"

Debuting this week, Now Then: A Prologue is a new work by dance artist Allie Hankins that “ponders the illogical and sordid practices of love and sex.” Now Then: A Prologue is the first part of a two-part solo called better to be alone than to wish you were, and it runs 8 pm Friday-Sunday at the Siren Theater, 315 NW Davis St. It is important to note that the entire collaborative and production team is female-identified. The costumes are by Rose Mackey, lighting design by Vanessa Janson and sculptures by Morgan Ritter and Maggie Heath.

Hankins is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she also attended college before leaving after graduation for Seattle. After immersing herself in the Seattle dance scene for five years, she moved to Portland in the summer of 2011 to work with Claudia Meza and to spend time with her long-term/long-distance partner. During that summer Hankins fell in love with city and the people and began splitting her time between the two cities until her final move to Portland in 2012.

Hankins is part of the Portland collective Physical Education with Lucy Lee Yim, Keyon Gaskin and Taka Yamamoto, who explore immersive methods of engaging with dance and performance. She has also performed recently in Portland with Tahni Holt and Suniti Dernovsek.

I interviewed Hankins via email about her new work and her life as an artist via email, and below is our conversation.

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Allie Hankins in Now Then: A Prologue. Photo by Ashley Sophia Clark.

What have you been up to since Like a Sun That Pours Forth Light but Never Warmth?

Well, I started quietly working on this new piece a month after Like a Sun, so it’s been a constant in my life since then. But besides that I guess a lot has happened: Physical Education started public programming, I started trying on various teaching practices, including my all-levels movement class TRANSCENDENTAEROBICOURAGE and a Performance Practices course for the Art & Social Practice program at PSU. I also took a number of workshops in San Francisco and Berlin. I’ve toured my work a few times. Had a few identity crises, lost some loved ones, etc.

I see that you travel a lot and collaborate with artists in many different cities. How do you stay connected to so many different dance communities?

I’m very VERY lucky to have day jobs working for people who are also artists, so they are always willing to work with me so I can take time off to attend workshops or gatherings or tour my work. I’ve found that people all over the place are really down and excited to make things happen. I think a lot about how to bring folks to Portland, and I’ve managed to help make that happen a few times with Physical Education and most recently,thanks to Linda Austin who helped me bring two groups of artists—one from the Bay Area, and one from Berlin for a weekend of shows at PWNW. I gain a lot from showing my work in communities where most people don’t know me—the feedback and critique are really valuable, so I try to make performance opportunities for myself in other cities—most recently those cities have been San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Berlin. I find that artists in those cities are also seeking opportunities outside of their own communities, so the exchange happens and then just sort of perpetuates itself on some level. Not that it’s easy (or cheap) but the momentum does pick up sometimes. And I find it thrilling, so I keep working on it.

How has being part of Physical Education helped you as an artist/person?

In many ways, actually. Building a very rigorous karaoke practice, for one. I mean, Lucy Lee Yim, Taka Yamamoto and keyon gaskin are three of my closest friends, and having this shared project has brought them into my life in a much more multifaceted way. I trust them to give me feedback on my work, I process with them about all the drawbacks and setbacks we experience in our lives (creative or otherwise). I am learning to negotiate the needs and visions and desires of four very different (but complementary) people to execute programming that we are all super invested in—even though our individual capacities to invest time and energy oscillates wildly depending on who is working on what. To be honest, these people challenge me and they’ve helped me become a much more thoughtful and rigorous maker. And no joke: the karaoke practice is REAL. We use it partly as catharsis, and I have no doubt that it has made me a better performer and improviser.

Allie Hankins in Now Then: A Prologue. Photo by Ashley Sophia Clark.

Allie Hankins in Now Then: A Prologue. Photo by Ashley Sophia Clark.

Could you elaborate on better to be alone than to wish you were? How did this piece manifest?

The piece really began as a joke, and it has remained comedic at its core. Right after Like a Sun, Physical Education went on tour to Minneapolis to present work in an evening curated by our friends Emily Gastineau and Billy Mullaney (Fire Drill). I had literally just finished Like a Sun, which took my three years to complete, so I was feeling depleted and out of ideas. Something about that level of exhaustion allowed me to feel comfortable throwing all caution to the wind, so when we arrived in Minneapolis I sat down at a bar and wrote down everything I thought would be funny to do. I chose about four things from the list and ended up with a 10 minute nugget that I’ve been developing ever since.

The piece I’m presenting this weekend, Now Then: A Prologue, is a literal prologue or introduction: I’ve stacked up my ideas for better to be alone than to wish you were, and created a sort of lecture/demonstration that highlights the themes I’m working with (impossibility of desire, sordid sex practices, the extraordinary and cumbersome illogic of love, and my body as a site and recipient of these various practices). Whatever I learn from performing the piece this weekend will help guide the continuation of my research & development of better to be…

I’ve come to understand that this work has a lot to do with my feelings around what I perceive is expected of me sexually as a woman (I’m a white cis woman) and woman artist. What attitudes I feel like I SHOULD have around sex versus my actual experiences and desires. I’ve been surprised by this persona that’s evolved who is entirely caught up in emotion—”hysterics” and “mania” even—and who isn’t at all afraid or apologetic of that. She invites the messiness that occurs in the throes of desire, she thinks it’s all pretty fucking hilarious, and when she decides she can’t really be bothered, she’s comfortable sitting back and objectively dissecting and analyzing the ways we lose ourselves in fits of romance or lust. She’ll fuck you all night long and won’t think twice about it the next day. I think of her as always almost on the verge of overflowing or being overwhelmed, and she gets off on riding that edge. None of this is overt, of course. It’s more subdued and energetic—it’s a certain tension. It’s kind of a hypnosis disguised as lecture disguised as stand-up comedy. Maybe.

What was your research and choreographic process like for this new piece? How was the making process different for this piece?

This piece has largely been developed through spontaneous and informal showings. I think I showed an excerpt for both Danielle Ross’s fundraiser and The Creative Music Guild’s fundraiser last year, for example. The solo this weekend is an extension of that process. Throwing things at the wall, seeing what sticks. The audience plays a HUGE role in this work, so it’s impossible to really develop that without an audience, so having this “Part One” feels absolutely crucial.

A whole lot of the research I’ve done got started at my residency at Djerassi (in northern California) last September. Reading aloud to myself was an important part of the process. The three works I focused on were Eros: The Bittersweet by Anne Carson, Sexuality & Space, edited by Beatriz Colomina, and Writing and Sexual Difference, edited by Elizabeth Abel. I think this reading practice helped me craft the oration aspect of the piece. Also, dancing to and singing a whole lot of Girl Group songs from the ’60’s. And watching videos of Burt Bacharach direct Dionne Warwick’s singing.

How do you keep yourself engaged/inspired as an artist?

I can’t help but be engaged, I guess. Whether it’s with enthusiasm, intrigue, or critique, I’m regularly engaging with performance. Most of my friends are performers and artists. I write about it (not really publicly), and I read about it pretty regularly. As far as inspiration goes, that’s a bit more elusive as we all know. One practical and unromantic thing that keeps me moving forward is a hard deadline. That proverbial carrot on the end of the stick. These days rigorous play, karaoke, jokes, and puns are keeping me buoyed enough to keep chipping away at whatever this solo is going to/trying to be coaxed to be(come).

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