MYS Oregon to Iberia

Getting ghosted by Allie Hankins

Dance review: Allie Hankins’ "By My Own Hand, Part 1: Ghosting" begins before it begins – and that's a good thing.

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Allie Hankins dancing in front of her line-drawing self-portraits, illuminated by a ghost lamp. Photo: Chelsea Petraikis

THE PERFORMANCE BEGAN WITHOUT ever formally beginning, as an Allie Hankins piece often does—a line of tape recorders and 8×12 sheets of paper lined across the front of the Performance Works Northwest stage floor. As the audience members walked in, Hankins could be seen entering and exiting the room in full house lighting; occasionally sitting, asking a patron to hold a hand mirror, and line-drawing her own reflection, without looking, to a five-second timer countdown. This—it became clear—was the start of Hankins showing us her “ghosts.”

The first in a forthcoming five-part series, By My Own Hand, Part 1: Ghosting includes lighting design by Allison Knight-Blaine, ASL interpretation by Jme James Antonick, live-streaming by Kaitlyn Petrik, and features Yoko Ono’s “No One Sees Me Like You.” Hankins describes it as “centering deconstruction,” which is precisely what one experiences throughout the work, which was presented by Risk/Reward and performed Aug. 5-7. Combining vocalization, dance, movement, pedestrian object interaction, and sparse methodic acknowledgment of the viewer, Hankins leads us on a scavenger hunt—or rather through a captivating riddle—in which pixels of a complete metaphoric photograph come slowly into view … the fog on the windshield fades.

Hankins performing “By My Own Hand, Part 1: Ghosting” at Linda Austin’s PWNW. Photo: Chelsea Petraikis

Hankins is an exceptionally eloquent speaker, and dictates what seems to be her inner monologue in a haunting and equally intoxicating tone. Visiting one by one the self-portraits drawn at the start of the show, she begins to read them as one would read a tarot card, manufacturing meaning from the odd placements of mismatched lines and scribbles that make up her image. “I learned that ‘face’ means torch,” she says, moving to the next page and pulling on her ear while explaining, “…this ear-pulling is a new habit I developed during this show.” “These are portraits… torches…” she muses, “and what is coming next are also portraits.”

The show is packed with darkness and allusions to death, but Hankins never fails to produce a performance ripe with humor. It is unlike the comedy of slapstick or stand-up, but rather a guttural humor that comes from a candid part of Hankins’ personality; a soulful humor that does not mind whether it goes over the heads of its spectators. While the comedic aspect of Hankins work lives in her body, present in the quirks of her speed and subtle lilts of the head, it is foremost alive in the sparkle of her eye. She knows what she is doing, and it is through her embodiment and understanding of “the funny” that we as witnesses, are gifted that experience of hilarity.

Hankins holding a tape player to a suspended microphone, one of the many props used during the performance. Photo: Chelsea Petraikis

As a mover, Hankins’ power is pleasing. Her obvious strength and use of weight complement the many nuanced aspects of her work. Energetic arms, crisp stillness, acute awareness of space, and a sense of urgency cultivate a feeling of unpredictability. Hankins’ focus always follows suit, changing with each dynamic shift and making you jump should she choose to gaze in your direction.

Sometimes, Hankins tells us, she imagines herself in a room full of “ghost-selves,” and perhaps that is why her work always feels so delightfully full—never lonely or apologetic. She makes reference to her own nostalgia, or lack thereof, for places she’s been, and to artists such as Renee Gladman, who describes candlelight as “sweet with a song attached.” Tape recordings that Hankins matches with her own live voice act as alternate universes … mirrors … a chorus … ghosts turning a solo show into a choir. Numerology drives the work in repetitions of five: five cassette tapes, five-second countdowns, and five methods of manifestation (or as Hankins refers to them, five tools of manipulation)—ghosting, melody, the ache, transparency, and saxophones—all present throughout the work and imperative to its deconstruction. Five letters in the word “ghost.” 

From stories about dreams of “sexual buttery lobster flesh” to flawless cuing of electronics, theater ghost lights, and crooning song, By My Own Hand, Part 1: Ghosting delivers something of the sublime. “Bury them and design their headstones,” Hankins rings throughout the piece. “There’s a monster in all of us,” she repeats again and again. “There’s a ghost in all of us.” As she vocalizes into the darkness, line-drawing portraits illuminated at head height, she backs away into the office, leaving us alone with her specters.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Amy Leona Havin is a poet, essayist, and arts journalist based in Portland, Oregon. She writes about language arts, dance, and film for Oregon ArtsWatch and is a staff writer with The Oregonian/OregonLive. Her work has been published in San Diego Poetry Annual, HereIn Arts Journal, Humana Obscura, The Chronicle, and others. She has been an artist-in-residence at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Archipelago Gallery, and Art/Lab, and was shortlisted for the Bridport International Creative Writing Prize in poetry. Havin holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts and is the Artistic Director of Portland-based dance performance company, The Holding Project.

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