DanceWatch Weekly: Allie Hankins talks about her creative process

Allie Hankins keeps her conversation with DanceWatch going with an interview about a new duet, plus a hip-hop Nutcracker and lots of parties

When We, a duet choreographed by Portland-based performer Allie Hankins and San Francisco-based dance artist and curator Rachael Dichter, opens this weekend at Performance Works NW. The culmination of a two-year, long-distance collaboration, it is set in “an austere world characterized by coded language, penetrating focus, and biting humor,” according to Hankins.

Jamuna Chiarini

I sat down with Hankins this past week to pick up where we left off the last time we spoke, to learn more about her creative process and what drives her as an artist, and to get some insight into her new work. That conversation is below the listings.

But first, Portland’s beloved jazz teacher and choreographer Tracey Durbin is leaving town and moving to Durham, North Carolina, on Thanksgiving. If you’ve always wanted to take her class, love her class but haven’t taken it in a while, or want to say goodbye in person, now is your chance to do it. Durbin teaches weekly jazz classes at BodyVox and NW Dance Project, so check their schedules online for specific class times and get to a Durbin class while you still can.

Also this week in Portland dance: The Hip Hop Nutcracker is here on tour from New York; Polaris Dance Theatre connects with Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen in Avalanche; The Holding Project directed by Amy Leona Havin is having a Season Launch Party at Ford Food and Drink; A-WOL Dance Collective celebrates its 15-year anniversary; and Horizon3 Dance, a brand new dance company co-directed by Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna, debuts at RAW.

Performances this week

Polaris Dance Theatre dancers in Avalanche. Photo courtesy of Polaris Dance Theatre. Photo by Brian McDonnell.

Avalanche
Polaris Dance Theatre, artistic director Robert Guitron
November 9-11
Polaris Dance Theatre, 1826 NW 18th Ave.
Creating an arch between Prince, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen in this dance/music tribute, Polaris artistic director Robert Guitron plays with themes that were central to these artists—gender identity, diversity, sexuality, racism, spirituality, and fashion—in an evening work for thirteen dancers.

Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter in When We. Photo courtesy of Allie Hankins.

When We
Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter, a PWNW Alembic Co-Production
November 9-12
Performance Works NW || Linda Austin Dance, 4625 SE 67th Ave.
See interview below.

The dancers of The Holding Project. Photo by Marina Choy.

Season Launch Party!
The Holding Project, artistic director Amy Leona Havin
7 pm November 11
Ford Food and Drink, 2505 SE 11th Ave.
Directed by Israeli dance artist, choreographer and writer Amy Leona Havin, The Holding Project will host a season opener fundraising party that will include solo performances by company members, live music, refreshments, raffles, and a silent auction. Prizes courtesy of Grand Central Bakery, Corepower Yoga, Lena Traenkenschuh LMT, Che Che Luna, and more. And, if you’re really really lucky you might win a chance to attend open rehearsals with The Holding Project.

 

A-WOL Dance Collective. Photo courtesy of A-WOL.

A-WOL Dance Collective 15th Anniversary Celebration
7 pm and 10 pm November 11
A-WOL Warehouse, 513 N Schuyler St.
Founded in 2003 by a collective of artists desiring to mix the worlds of dance and aerial arts, A-WOL Dance Collective Celebrates 15 years hanging around Portland and beyond with a party, and you are invited.

The warehouse social will include local food and brew, live music by Love Gigantic, and pop-up performances by A-WOL, Circus Rose, and A-WOL’s training companies, FlyCo and Aeros. The After Hours Show (21+) will be emceed by John Ellingson, and acrobatic feats of all sorts will be performed.

Photo by Meagan Hall Photography

COnTenT: beyond binary | safe space \ un-safe performance
Presented by Water in the desert, hosted by Carina Borealis
8 pm November 11
The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St. Suite 9
No one will be turned away for lack of funds
Featuring performances by Alice Johnson, Douglas Allen, Kit Epiphany Apparently, Mars Mars, Kaj-anne Pepper, Kel Dae and more, COnTenT “is both ritual and live performance…and is a collective coming together in celebration of the genderqueer, the trans, the androgynous, the non binary—and every arc of color upon the spectrum between.”

Decadancetheatre’s Hip Hop Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker Featuring MC Kurtis Blow
Decadancetheatre, artistic director Jennifer Weber
Presented by Portland’5 Centers for the Arts
8 pm November 15
The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave.
Set in Brooklyn in the 1980s, this contemporized Nutcracker performed to Tchaikovsky’s original Nutcracker Suite with some hip-hop interludes mixed in, follows Maria-Clara and her prince as they travel back in time to the moment when her parents first meet in a nightclub.

This evening-length production, choreographed by Brooklyn-based Decadancetheatre’s artistic director Jennifer Weber, will be performed by a dozen all-star hip hop dancers to a live DJ onstage accompanied by an electric violinist, all emcee’d by rap legend Kurtis Blow.

Photo courtesy of Horizon3 Dance. Photo by @perceptivecreation & @theframedeye.

Horizon3 Dance in collaboration with RAW PORTLAND
Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna
7 pm November 15
Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave.
Horizon3 Dance, based in Vancouver, Washington, directed by former Polaris Dance Theatre dancers Brynn Hofer, Gerard Regot, and Melanie Verna, makes its Portland debut this week at RAW Portland-SAVOR. The company will present one live performance and three dance films and will be joined in performance by company dancers Preeya Kannan and Willow Swanson. The works focus on societal expectations, vulnerability, and individual expression.

RAW is an organization run by artists, for artists, that was formed to connect artists of all mediums in every city and town, and provide a platform for the presentation of their work. Raw currently produces artists in 60 cities around the world.

Interview with Allie Hankins

Since I spoke with her last (you can catch up on our earlier conversation here), Hankins debuted her solo Now Then: A Prologue in May 2016 at The Siren Theatre in Portland, performed it again at PICA’s TBA festival that September, performed with Morgan Thorson in Still Life in the same TBA festival, traveled to Toronto to work with a Parisian artist, performed Now Then in Cork, Ireland, and Tel Aviv as well as co-produced events with the Portland collective Physical Education (which also includes Lu Yim, Keyon Gaskin and Taka Yamamoto). And I’m sure I’ve left a few things out. She’s also been on When We with Rachael Dichter,

How did you meet Rachael?

Rachael and I met at Larry Arrington’s Squart performance at TBA (2014). She and I didn’t really meet then, but we met at a workshop the next day, I think. Then the following the summer I went to Dos Rios, California, for some workshops with Sara Shelton Mann and Abby Crain. Then right after that I went to Ponderosa, which is just outside of Berlin. It’s another dance place: it’s kind of like summer camp for adults. Rachael was at both places. At Poderosa she and I took a workshop together. It was a workshop about making performance really quickly. They would say, ‘You have ten minutes to make a two-minute performance, go!’ She and I were partnered up a lot, and we ended up making things together all summer. She went to Dance Web [A nonprofit dance organization based in Vienna, Austria, committed to developing contemporary dance throughout Europe as well as connecting it to the larger international dance community enhancing dialogue between cultures] right after that, and she sent me an email: “Hey I really enjoyed our time, do you want to see what it would be like to work on something together?” [For the next two years Hankins and Dichter alternated traveling to each others towns, meeting when they could.]

What was it like working together?

While I would say we have an excellent working relationship and really complement each other’s working styles, and I really like this thing we made, and I think it’s so different than anything I would make on my own and I love that about it, we definitely had friction. Which I definitely think is good.

How did you maintain the piece and your relationship under these circumstances?

Rachael is an excellent communicator, and when I’m in the room with an excellent communicator I can also be an excellent communicator. I have a hard time starting a conversation, but once it’s going, I can do it. She’s very good at just being like, ‘hey, I’m seeing this, I’m feeling this, can we talk about it?’ And then I can. But if it’s just tension in the room then I’ll just ride that tension. I’ll be like, “who’s gonna break first, who’s gonna break first.’ [Allie laughs] She’s really good at nipping it in the bud. So I think sometimes it was just a matter of saying it out loud, and being like, ‘ok my feelings are hurt, ok my feelings are hurt, ok we’ll work through it.’ Sometimes it’s a matter of taking a pause, let’s take a break, let’s calm down. Other times it was like, ‘let’s do some body work and roll around on the floor’ and let it work itself out…

Video still of When We by Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter.

What’s it like working on a solo versus a duet?

I’m not freaking out at all… If this were a solo I would be a mess. You know? Doing all the things, it’s only me up there, everything has to be perfect. With this it feels like because it’s both of our work equally…we both have the same amount of investment, the same amount of history, the same knowledge of the trajectory of the work. So it feels very much like we are performing together, and I feel very held by her presence on stage and I think she feels the same. It’s a different entity. It’s just like this strength that I’ve never really experienced before. Having someone so close, and we’ve gotten so close over this…there’s just this intimacy there that feels pretty unique to this project and makes it feel really sustainable and really powerful. And of course we’re really nervous about fucking up the choreography or whatever, but we both feel met by each other and because we’re both there, nothing can really go that wrong.

Can you tell me about the work?

It feels really related to how the process has actually worked. Like we have these short burst of intense activity where we’re in the same room and we’re working together, and then these long stretches of time where we’re not in the room together and were not even talking, but the piece is still being made. All the things are still moving forward, the piece is still going to happen, we’re still thinking about it and we come together [she snaps her fingers], things are propelled forward, we separate and come back. And so the rhythm of it, I hope it’s not too predictable, but also I don’t care necessarily, I’m not sure. But it feels very of that working process.

So there are just these moments that are about the world that we are in, and the density we’ve created with stillness and presence. And then something happens, and it shifts the world, and the world rotates, or your relationship to it rotates or you learn something about one of us, then there’s a time where we settle into it again. For me the piece is really about relearning what intimacy is for me and what is intimacy with an audience and what is a power dynamic with the audience.

I think that’s a trite things to say right now because a lot of people are exploring that right now, but I also am. If our gaze is penetrating the audience does that mean we have power, and this idea around the word penetration and the power behind that, and the confrontation of being in the room with someone in a performative context and how you can really be together. But at the same time we’re in an alliance, we are very much on the same page and have all the secrets and y’all might get them but you might not. But we are trying to create this exchange.

I think the piece for me is really exploring modalities of that and then also just making movement again and how the movement interacts with the stillness and the pauses and the text, and trying to find this overall rhythm and tension. Rachael doesn’t like the word “tension”—she says the word “depth”…

When We by Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter. Photo by Ashely Sophia Clark.

Why are you interested in the audience-performer relationship?

I think because, self producing work can feel like a really big ask, to invite people to come watch you for an hour, and I want to really be in the room with people when they’re there, for me. There are ways of performance that you can fake that intimacy. Right? We have these tools of looking just above the heads and looking at the audience but not really. I really want to be with you when you’re there. It doesn’t mean that I want to be friendly necessarily or totally vulnerable with you, but I want us all to be in the room. I think it’s a much more satisfying relationship to the audience for me now, this might change but…

Performance for me in my life, I’ve always been super shy and very self-effacing and at my worst very self-deprecating. I think when I learned that performance was this one time that I felt totally confident, in control, could say anything, could do anything, I realized that I should utilize these moments as a means of connecting with people, in a way. Instead of just doing a show, being like, ‘you’re seeing me at my best right now,’ let’s acknowledge that.

How do you get involved in so many different kinds of projects?

When I moved to Portland, I met a bunch of people—like Taka [Yamamoto] has a visual arts practice, Lu [Yim] recently has been going to graduate school for visual art/performance—and just sort of connected with people who had a lot more access to these things than I previously did, because I went to college for dance, did mostly dance, choreography. I did take a few classes in college around photography and things like that, but whatever, I think as I became a choreographer of my own work, I quickly discovered other things that I like doing onstage, like speaking. And I enjoy writing as a craft, and I found that I really enjoyed video work. And the video work kind of became this way of keeping things moving all the time even if I wasn’t working on a specific project. It was like, you’re filming, you’re always crafting something, whatever. I think those various interests have allowed me to reach out to people with other things. Lu is always working on visual stuff, and I always ask to jump on board. It just sort of happens, I guess. I get wrapped up in these other things and suddenly I’m doing a video performance or doing a weird karaoke performance or whatever, you know.

I feel like you straddle both the dance and performance worlds. When I first saw you dancing in Portland, I felt like your work was more movement based, and now you have brought in a lot of other elements. I’m curious about this evolution and how you do that, and why you felt like you needed to bring things outside the body in, to tell your story?

I think honestly it was curiosity. The solo I made four years ago now, I call it the Nijinsky solo, but it was called Like a Sun that Pours Forth Light but Never Warmth. Long title: that’s another thing I do, make up long titles.

It was the first thing I had made. I had worked on it for three years just not knowing how to actually do it, you know? When do I actually perform it, how do I know when it’s done? And then I managed to get a RACC grant, and I was like. ‘ok, now I have a deadline so I guess I’ll just figure it out.’

I think after that process it had pretty much exhausted all of my resources—personal resources, not just money, time, energy. I was just so spent. I luckily had a lot of help, Jerry [Tischleder] from Risk/Reward helped me a bunch, and I was just done. Then literally the next day, Physical Education went on a tour to Minneapolis, and I had to present something. I was like, ‘there’s no way in hell I’m doing that solo because I never want to think about it again.’ And I was in the Midwest, and I was like, ‘Jello moulds are fun,’ and I got one and didn’t want to dance, didn’t want to choreograph anything. I just wanted to talk basically. I went out there and told a few jokes and wiggled some jello around and then did end up dancing to Dionne Warwick. But that piece became the next thing that I did. I think this is usually how it works for me where I’m just like, “huh, that’s funny,” and then suddenly I’m obsessed with it and becomes this driving momentum of whatever project comes out of it.

I like text and I do write a lot, but I never really felt comfortable sharing that aspect of my practice. But then when I started working on the last solo, I did I got lucky enough to have a residency with a few writers who really gave me a lot of tools and really coached me some, when I asked them to, about how to deliver text, about how to tell jokes, about how to engage an audience in this way. And I just thought it was super interesting and such a different challenge, because I know I can keep interest with dance—I’ve done it for a long time, I’ve performed, I know how to do that. I didn’t know how to do the other thing. And so I was like, ‘I have to figure this out.’ I never have a plan from the beginning. It’s like, ‘oh that’s what I’m doing.’

I’m really really lucky to have studio space, because I live in a room that’s like this big and I pay next to nothing for it, and then I spend the rest of my rent, or what I would be spending on rent, on a studio rental. I’m able to go to the studio all the time and just dick around and find things that are interesting and curious. I’ve gotten better over the years at just more organically following curiosity instead of trying to immediately put parameters on it …I’m better at letting it be very expansive for longer, and then because I am a control freak at the end I’m like, ‘ok, now it’s this thing, you know?’

When We by Allie Hankins and Rachael Dichter. Photo by Ashely Sophia Clark.

How do you know when it’s done and ready to be performed?

The shows happening. You know? You got to get money so you gotta get the grant. And I didn’t get the grant last year, so I’ll try again this year. And then we’ll see. Then you have to just set a date based on what else is going on in the world, in your life, you know? It’s kind of arbitrary, which I think is kind of fun actually. Because maybe I’ll never have to actually learn when something is done, maybe it will always just sort of realize itself in the last moments. And I think there’s a lot of power in that, and I think that’s one of the secret things about performance making is that a lot of it happens, at least for me, opening night. Where I’m like, ‘ooh, that’s how that’s supposed to go, or that’s how that lands, and that’s how this timing should work.’ And it’s a really unique experience, because you don’t have an audience until then and everything happens then. It’s kind of terrifying, but really fun, you know?

How do you work your writing into your work?

I write most every day. If I’m being honest I haven’t been doing it the last couple of weeks because I’ve been too busy. That’s real. I write my dreams a lot…I feel really inarticulate a lot of times and trying to maintain a practice in that weird cognitive gap that happens where you’re like, ‘I’m thinking all these things,’ and it’s very hard to put into words on a page for me, it always has been.

I think what keeps me doing it, honestly, sometimes I’ll go back to old things, and I’ll be like, ‘oh right I forgot I was thinking about that’ and how weird to see how my thoughts evolve over time. I think I’m just interested in having a records of these ideas.

In this piece happening soon [she laughs], next week [she laughs again], there’s very little text, there’s some. It was sourced from a rhythmic prompt, actually. We were trying to really research rhythm, this very specific rhythm inside the movement choreography, and we wanted to reflect it and balance it with text. And the way the text works in the piece is that it is obfuscated, so you can’t really discern what we’re saying, but it’s definitely there and it’s informing. So, it was then, ‘ok what’s the rhythm, how do we establish that, how do we layer that, how do we perform it together?’ It’s very minimal, but I really like it, I don’t know, we’ll see.

Performances Next Week

November 11-18, Symbolic Interactions, Willamette University Theatre Department
November 16-18, L-E-V, presented by White Bird
November 16-18, Autumn Choreographers Concert, Pacific Dance Ensemble
November 17, Rather This, Then, Jermaine Spivey and Spenser Theberge
November 18, Mood Factory, Hosted by Dan Reed Miller and Ben Martens

Upcoming Performances

November
November 24, Mushimaru Fujieda: Natural Physical Poetry Performance, hosted by Water in the Desert
November 24-26, The Enchanted Toyshop by John Clifford, Tourbillon by Anne Mueller, performed by the PSU Orchestra and The Portland Ballet
November 26, The Taming Of The Shrew, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
November 30-December 9, Lexicon (world premiere), BodyVox

December
December 2, Tidal-the first cut, Wobbly Dance
December 7-9, Bolero + Billie, Ihsan Rustem, NW Dance Project
December 8-9, The Nutcracker with Chamber Ballet of Corvallis, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
December 9, Winter Dance Concert, Reed College Performing Arts
December 9-24, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, Oregon Ballet Theatre
December 13-17, a world, a world (work-in-progress), Linda Austin Dance, PWNW
December 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance, Crystal Jiko, Tere Mathern, Madison Page, Wolfbird Dance
December 17, The Nutcracker, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
December 17, Fiesta Navideña, Hosted by Espacio Flamenco Portland
December 22-24, The Nutcracker with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene

January

January 12, Love Heals All Wounds, Lil’ Buck and Jon Boogz, Presented by Portland’5 Center for the Arts
January 18-28, Fertile Ground Festival of New Work/Groovin’ Greenhouse
January 25-27, Rennie Harris Puremovement, presented by White Bird
January 28, Garden of Earthly Delights with Salem Concert Band (World premiere), Rainbow Dance Theatre, Independence

February
February 1-10, The skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, presented by BodyVox
February 4, The Lady Of The Camellias, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
February 17-18, Pink Martini, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
February 21, Mark Morris Dance Group, presented by White Bird
February 23-25, Configure, PDX Contemporary Ballet
February 24-March 4, Alice (in wonderland), choreography by Septime Webre, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre

March
March 1-3, Urban Bush Women, presented by White Bird
March 4, The Flames Of Paris, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
March 8-10, Jessica Lang Dance, presented by White Bird
March 14, Compañia Jesús Carmona, presented by White Bird
March 15-17, World Premiere’s by Sarah Slipper and Cayetano Soto, NW Dance Project
March 22-24, To Have It All, choreography by Katie Scherman, presented by BodyVox

April
April 4, iLumiDance, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5, Earth Angel and other repertory works, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Corvallis
April 5-7, Stephen Petronio Company, presented by White Bird
April 8, Giselle, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
April 12-14, Contact Dance Film Festival, presented by BodyVox and Northwest Film Center
Apr 14-25, Peer Gynt with Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet Company, Eugene
April 12-21, Man/Woman, choreography by Mikhail Fokine, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nicolo Fonte, James Canfield, Jiří Kylián, performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre
April 19-28, Early, push/FOLD, choreographed and directed by Samuel Hobbs
April 20-29, X-Posed, Polaris Dance Theatre, Robert Guitron
April 24-25, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presented by White Bird
April 24-25, The Wind and the Wild, BodyVox and Chamber Music Northwest

May
May 4-5, Current/Classic, The Portland Ballet
May 10-12, New work premiere, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Western Oregon University, Monmouth
May 10-19, Rain & Roses (world premiere), BodyVox
May 11-13, Compose, PDX Contemporary Ballet
May 16, Ballet Hispȧnico, presented by White Bird
May 23-June 3, Closer, original works by the dancers of Oregon Ballet Theatre

June
June 8-10, Up Close, The Portland Ballet
June 10, Coppelia, Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema Live from Moscow
June 14-16, World Premiere – Ihsan Rustem, MemoryHouse – Sarah Slipper, NW Dance Project
June 15-17, New Expressive Works Residency Performance
June 24, Salem World Beat, Rainbow Dance Theatre, Salem

 

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