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Dance: Austin & Hankins on a pink cloud

"These dancers fit together with a perfectly nonsensical logic": Two seasoned choreographers dig into surrealist influences at Performance Works NW.

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Linda Austin and Allie Hankins dancing in a space with wooden floors. Linda wears red pants and a grey shirt with one hand on her stomach and the other rounded over her head, her focus slightly down toward the ground. Allie wears white pants and a blue shirt and is bent over at the waist with her arms out to the sides, her focus out.
Linda Austin (left) and Allie Hankins performing at the 2019 Performance Mix Festival in New York. Photo: Kathryn Butler

What are the relationships between a painting and a dance? I asked myself this question while catching a rehearsal of /ə ˈsɪŋgəl pɪŋk klɑʊd/ by choreographers Linda Austin and Allie Hankins—a performance that takes inspiration from surrealist painters such as Gertrude Abercrombie and Leonora Carrington. I pondered my pestering question along the lines of difference: After all, a conventional painting is made up of inanimate matter that can retain value as a material commodity. On the other hand, a concert dance is typically made of animated human bodies who labor in performance to prove their worth over time. In watching Austin and Hankins rehearse for their upcoming debut at Performance Works NW, I wondered what affinity these dancers might have with paintings of the past—fundamentally, they are so dissimilar! 

As rehearsal unfolded, Austin and Hankins embarked with abandon on wild theatrics, allowing their differing ways of moving and vocalizing to generate friction and incite pleasure. They teased out the concept of unpredictability through “unlikely pairings and (re)combinations” that took many forms and trajectories, and they even seemed to embody juxtaposition with their unique physicalities: Austin is a 68-year-old white woman with long graying hair and flashing blue eyes; Hankins is a white woman, 30 years younger, with cropped hair and a deep, smoldering gaze. They have certain similarities and obvious points of interest. But in performance, these women – much like their mediums of influence – exist in undeniable contrast to each other. 

An image of a split screen with half of Linda Austin’s face and arm on the left, and half of Allie Hankins’ face and arm on the right, the two halves creating a whole being. Linda wears white against a black background and holds a bell in her hand, Allie wears a dark shirt against a white background and holds a flower in her hand.
Video still from 2019 live-streamed performance of “/ə ˈsɪŋgəl pɪŋk klɑʊd/”.

As I watched, I sensed the invitation to consider their age as a slippery spectrum to slide along rather than a fixed point to be embodied. The dancers interacted with a mix of fanciful props and whimsical set design, which gave their performance a feeling akin to childhood play. Some of their set pieces looked fantastical—their beloved “dismembered hyena,” a reference to works of both painting and writing by Carrington—while other scenic elements carried the weight of pedestrian familiarity. As a solo artist, Austin, in particular, has built a reputation for breathing imaginative potential into mundane household objects with histories of gendered and classed labor. In her current collaboration with Hankins, ritual détournement of such unlikely materials served to conjure worlds otherwise. 

In the vein of conjuring realities, it bears mentioning that this duo have worked on this performance for a lengthy and unanticipated duration due to the pandemic, honing their world-building skills along the way. They postponed their culminating performance multiple times throughout the waves of Covid-19 and, in the interim, brought their exploration of surrealist works into the digital sphere. In March of 2021, Austin and Hankins offered a compelling virtual iteration of the work, which pushed their use of technologies at hand. This manifested as a combination of live-streamed and pre-recorded video elements, cohered with dreamlike green screen features. Their virtual performance remains streamable online, a memoir of the logistical challenges the dancers have faced that pushed them into even more unforeseen creative realms. 

As my time at rehearsal drew to a close, it dawned on me that Austin and Hankins seem to embody feminist surrealism in their work together, like two sides of a coin. These women epitomize certain juxtapositions—most noticeably through their age difference—but they also share plenty of affinity, such as their oddball humor, experimental gender expression, and physical daring. Much like the objects they employ, which have little overt relation to one another, these dancers fit together with a perfectly nonsensical logic. They enhance one another’s creative potential through their striking differences and expansive play with their primary medium of choice—the very essence of surrealism—bringing the bizarreness of fleshly life to the fore. Intergenerational dance collaborations of this duration and depth are a rare find. For that reason and many others, /ə ˈsɪŋgəl pɪŋk klɑʊd/ is not to be missed.

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  • /ə ˈsɪŋgəl pɪŋk klɑʊd/ runs April 8-10 and April 14-17 at Performance works NW, with all shows at 8 p.m. ASL interpretation will be provided Saturday, April 9. 

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  • Transparency note: Both Linda Austin and Allie Hankins are close collaborators with the writer across a variety of past and present projects.

Hannah (they/them) is a nonbinary neurodivergent dancer, dance-maker, and writer residing on lands of the Cowlitz, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Clackamas, and many other tribes, also known as Southeast Portland, Oregon. In addition to creating zines and writing for Oregon ArtsWatch, their contributions have been published by Movement Research’s Critical Correspondence and Stance on Dance. They have been an artist-in-residence at New Expressive Works, Sou’wester Arts, Art Klub NOLA, and Performance Works NW. Their work has been presented by the Domestic Performance Agency, 912 Julia Gallery, Pieter Performance Space, and the Chehalem Cultural Center, among others. Hannah often works in close collaborations, most consistently with long-term collaborator Emily Jones. They continue to grow in the complex lineages of somatics, improvisation, and disability justice. They hold an MA in Performance Studies from New York University.

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