Dance preview: Allie Hankins channels her inner Nijinsky

"Like a Sun That Pours Forth Light But Never Warmth" premieres this weekend

In the mid 1920s, Ida Rubinstein commissioned Maurice Ravel to make an orchestral transcription of Albéniz’s Iberia. Copyright issues, of all things, sent that plan sideways, and the world got Bolero instead. Rubinstein performed in the premiere of Bolero in 1928, when the future-choreographer Maurice Béjart was one year old. More than a decade earlier, she danced with the legendary Vaslav Nijinksy in the then-scandalous Scheherazade for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, for audiences that included Sarah Bernhard and Pablo Picasso. This is the same company that, with Nijinski’s help, altered the path of 20th century music and dance with their performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and the apocryphal “riot” caused by one of its first shows.

Béjart would reinterpret this work some 30 years later, cementing its influence as a modern work rather than a “new classic” to be lifelessly propped up by school drama departments. Then, in 1961, he reinterpreted Bolero, with the incredible Jorge Donn performing the male-solo variation. Ever aware of their influences, Béjart and Donn later paid homage to Nijinski in Nijinksi, Clown of God, in which Donn directly inhabited the role of the dancer who had influenced his career and the careers of countless other dancers in the 20th century. Donn reprised this role in 1990, just two years before his death from AIDS, by which time the innovative and genre-crossing techniques for which Béjart had often been criticized had become standard fare for contemporary dance.

Allie Hankins' "Like a Sun..." premieres Friday at Conduit.

Allie Hankins’ “Like a Sun…” premieres Friday at Conduit.

This is a thread that winds through 80 years of explosive innovation and exploration in not just dance, but every branch of modern art and the roots of postmodernity. If you tug on it, more connections and lines of influence become clear. If you need a map to follow it all, ask Allie Hankins. For the past three years, she’s wound herself up in these threads and the legacy of movements, choreography, and performance that they have created. On Friday, October 24, she and 80 pounds of crimson lycra will weave them all together for the first time in full at Conduit dance studio.

I’m not just happy that Portland can produce a show like this, but that we even have a bit of buzz about it. The story of the show so far traces its own web through recent luminaries of the Portland cultural scene. An early incarnation of Like a Sun featured in the Parenthetical Girls’ performance at TBA in 2012. As Hankins developed the work, performing sections in various forms fit to many and strange venues, she became a founding member of Flock. Somewhere in that flurry of work, she found time to deliver an captivating performance in Tahni Holt’s Duet Love at TBA this year. Meanwhile, she corresponded with local musician Jordan Dykstra as he studied and traveled as far off as Iceland. They will have only rehearsed in the same room a handful of times before the debut this weekend.

allie-hankins-12-12-420,medium_largeFollowing just one of the historical threads that have captivated Hankins can be a quick education in 20th century dance, but Like a Sun is far from an academic reference-fest. While there are many moments of direct quotation or transcription of Nijinski’s choreography or Nijinski-movement-by-way-of-Donn, there are just as many themes and motions that Hankins says are “all Allie.” It is a peculiar and wholly new work tied up in some rich history, led by obsessions and passions rather than abstruse analysis.

Nijinski famously retired from dance at 29, chased by his approach-avoidance and obsessive behavior. (The unforgettable title of Hankins’ piece comes from an image a fellow dancer used to describe Nijinski.) Ravel cannily courted the rumors that he had gone mad after Bolero debuted, and Donn brought a sweat-drenched physicality to the pseudo-sexual, maniacal focus of the rhythm that Ravel first played with a single finger. Hankins describes falling into a sort of thrall of research on her Rauschenberg Residency, Nijinski, Rubinstein, et al. swirling around her. Anyone who has climbed the lonely mountain of a dissertation can conjure those moments of doubting your own sanity. “Will anyone understand this?”, usually accompanied by “Have I gone too deep to make sense?” You are driven by the desire for secret knowledge, and stymied by the challenge of carrying it back intact from the wilderness.

Hankins told me the story of returning from the residency, spreading all her notes out on the new floor at Flock, and watching new research loop back into old in threads like the Nijinski-Rubinstein-Ravel-Béjart-Nijinski spiral I began with. Though it’s an important thread, Hankins offered it as just one example. “I could go on for hours,” she said, laughing. I pictured her as the prototypical lone detective, pinning mugshots on her corkboard and drawing lines between them late into the night while the other cops called her crazy on their way out the door.

Allie Hankins in her "Like a Sun That Pours Forth Light But Never Warmth"

Allie Hankins in her “Like a Sun That Pours Forth Light But Never Warmth”

A Nobel Prize winner once said “research is to see what everybody has seen and to think what nobody else has thought.” Research in art is not so much an attempt to prove a point as it is a precondition of nurturing a vision, or a hunch, or a feeling one cannot escape. As soon as Hankins steps on the stage, she seems haunted by a presence only she can see. Nijinski’s movements passing through her seem to do battle with specters of their own.

Hankins is ready with disclaimers about how she wouldn’t ever seek comparison with Nijinski, that the impossibility of working within his shadow is what she finds interesting and even funny. However, the collision of obsessive vision with impossible achievements—works like Bolero and careers like Nijinski’s—produces the new sights and a sort of tragedy that make them so appealing, so hard to forget. The good stuff lends us the power of that obsession, but lets us escape it. I’m very excited that Hankins will be sharing her fixation this weekend.

One Response.

  1. Tickets through Risk/Reward are already sold out through the weekend, but we will try to seat as many on standby as possible!

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