by Allison Orr
Forklift Danceworks is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that creates 1 - 2 large scale performances each year. We work in and around East Austin at site-specific locations. For example, the project, My Park, My Pool, My City is a three-year partnership with Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department Aquatics Division and features three performances at and about three East Austin pools.
Founded in 2001 by Artistic Director Allison Orr, award-winning Austin-based Forklift Danceworks presents innovative performance projects with diverse communities. Allison works alongside fellow choreographer Krissie Marty, designer Stephen Pruitt, and composer Graham Reynolds. Forklift has been developed through collaborations with over 20 different communities so far including sanitation workers, warehouse employees, and retired Negro League Baseball players. Our dances show the skilled movement and tell the often unheard stories of the people whose work sustains our daily lives. Each performance is created through long-term artistic and ethnographic research within a community, enabling us as artists to understand the collaborating community’s history, challenges, and assets while building trusting relationships and observing movement material. We then create choreography with the participating community members, transforming the ordinary, mundane, and skillful movements of work and everyday life into a large-scale performance accompanied by live, original music and stories told in the workers’ or neighbors’ voices. Ultimately, through our performances we seek to create opportunities for more informed civic dialogue, deeper understanding of the jobs essential to urban life, and greater connection between citizens and across communities.
““The [Trash Project] took the day-to-day work of an unappreciated and unrecognized city department and made it into an art form that won several awards. As the men and women in collections now pick up trash, recycling, brush and bulky items, and clean the streets we have a sense of pride. The public now comes up, saying they saw The Trash Project, and asks our employees for autographs.” ”
— Jermaine Defreeze, a Maintenance Worker Leader
Forklift Danceworks is currently in production for Dove Spring Swims / Nadamos Dove Springs, which is the second of three performances in our multi-year My Park, My Pool, My City partnership with Austin’s Aquatics Division. We’re also at work on a series of performances with campus employees at three universities. The first performance, Served, was performed in February 2018 at Williams College.
Forklift works with community members and workers; in particular, we serve city government employees, working-class people, and neighborhoods whose stories are frequently untold. Our dances feature the often-overlooked choreography of work that sustains our everyday lives.
We make dances with people who do not think of themselves as dancers but are expert movers. Movement expertise comes from years and years of practice. A core value of Forklift is that
You do not have to work in a dance or art studio to be artistic. All people are innately artists! We seek to celebrate and highlight the people and work that sustain the city, labor which is often invisible. This opportunity allows me, as a choreographer, to work with remarkable people and together to make remarkable dances. I have never met anyone who is not interested in having someone learn more about their world. If you listen well to people, you will hear magical things. It is always an honor to be with someone and get to learn about their daily life experiences.
My work is built on the knowledge of artists who came before me. I am not the first and I am definitely not the last. My mentors have included Liz Lerman and other Dance Exchange artists along with Deborah Hay.I have studied with artists and choreographers to learn how to choreograph, listen, be with and organize people. As Marty Pottenger likes to say, “listening well is a muscle that you have to strengthen over time.”
““Allison was deeply invested in our success from day one. She connected with each student individually and found ways to support us where we were, as whole people. She balanced historical and theoretical content with direct practice very effectively. I think many of her students see her not just as a teacher, but as a true mentor.””
— Gretchen LaMotte
I have learned the value of spending time with people. Most of my time is spent building relationships. I am excited by relationships that are reciprocal and truly collaborative. People need to be offered something in return. It is not enough to enter into a space and choreograph; I need to embed myself in the work and listen to the people. They are the experts. I am delighted by these interactions and continuously fall in love with and learn from those I meet!
I love teaching and have taught a lot of young children. Toddlers have taught me about timing and pacing. Teaching is a practice of aligning my pace with others. I have found that it is not about coming in and knowing everything, but rather it is about observation of where the students are and what they are looking for. Once connections and trust have been established, students will follow.