My introduction to Allie Hankins as a performer was her 2012 TBA dance Like A Sun That Pours Forth Light But Never Warmth where she quietly covered herself in gold leaf for an extended period of time then leapt unbelievably—half nude and strong—for another era to a rampaging orchestral score of Bolero. It was breathtaking. So it’s also incredible to see Hankins show us another character four years later who is so different from that incredible light, a wry Janeane Garofalo '90s stand-up comic persona—with some slam poet added for good measure—who always seems just a breath away from fellating her microphone.
In May, Hankins performed Now Then: A Prologue at the Siren Theater as a shorter preview or in-process work that would expand to become better to be alone than to wish you were for this year's TBA. Now seeing it as a full length one-woman-show/performance piece/dance currently playing tonight and tomorrow at Bodyvox Dance Center, I'm impressed by how closely it aligns with her initial vision. Sure, the sections of the piece are more clearly separated and there's now a seamless, thoughtful flow to the presentation. There are more “fuck machines” (this is what she called her stage props) than in Prologue and she knows exactly what she’s doing with them. But the original text remains largely unchanged, and due to its density I'm happy to hear it again. I ponder what parts are jokes and what parts are real honesty and what parts are honesty disguised as jokes.
“She’s like a motivational speaker,” my friend whispers during the performance. “But like a really good one.”
“I think the stand-up comedy performance art she’s referencing in itself referenced late '80s-early '90s motivational speakers,” I say.
“I’m so glad I don’t have to write about this,” he says.
I may wrong.
There’s a whole section of better to be alone than to wish you were that I was initially wrong about. Hankins does a comedic bit, while breaking down a phallic stage prop, about the infamous SUNY study (or perhaps just the smarmy Jesse Bering article “An Ode to the Many Evolved Virtues of Human Semen”) which posited that women exposed to semen regularly “showed more elevated mood and less depression.”
Lazy science conclusion: Semen makes women happy.
The first time I heard her talk about it, I thought she lent it some credence. I hadn’t thought about the study much and certainly hadn’t considered its insidious misogyny. (Bad scientists! Bad use of science!) Now on my third viewing I can detect the disdain Hankins has for this article.
At multiple points during the show, Hankins returns to Greek poet and philosopher Sappho’s concept of "bitter honey vs. sweet wound. Hankins' character tries to unravel or perhaps impart some meaning about the nature of desire based on that text and I have come to think that she means being alone is the bitter honey and being with someone but wishing you were alone is the sweet wound. The flux of those things is desire. Which do you choose? Are you traveling towards one in the other or are you simply standing still? Maybe that's too easy a conclusion.
In a way, I think these sorts of subjects are some of the reasons we're so interested in dance and performance art. It's a medium to illustrate ideas that are difficult to simply discuss. There's a lot to unpack in this piece but I feel lucky to have it arranged and presented to me so beautifully with humor, insight, and, yes, with illustrative fuck machines.
Previously, at TBA:
• Amenta Abioto Nearly Achieves Transcendence
• Repurposed Nostalgia in Mechanics Laid Bare
• The Effervescent Spirit of AU and the Camas High School Choir
• Unpacking "Otherness" in Carlos Motta's Deseos / رغبات
• Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble's Stealthy Mindfulness and Toxic Masculinity
• Disco Nostalgia and Wildwood Fantasies in Meg Wolfe's New Faithful Disco
• When Watching One Part of Morgan Thorson’s Still Life, Another Part Passes You By
• Narcissister’s Sublime, Ab Fab-Approved Spectacle