Forklift shows its Power
Power UP is the latest large-scale performance work by Forklift Danceworks, helmed by Allison Orr. This company specializes in creating performances by people who by their professions are not and do not think of themselves as dancers, actors, or any other variety of performer. This is the sole linkage between the many types of people who have worked in Forklift shows—Venetian gondoliers, firemen, maintenance workers, waste removal employees, pet owners, and others.
Orr’s philosophy is that dance and art are found in everyday movement and life. It is as simple as that, and Orr’s performance career with its impressive credentials has been built on that belief.
Power UP was performed with outdoor line employees of Austin Energy, the energy utility division of the City of Austin. Their performance was simply doing what they do professionally, on power poles and transmission towers. In this, Orr displayed the simple brilliance of letting the theatrical magic happen on its own. It was mesmerizing to gaze at the tying of knots, pulling on ropes on pulleys, and the raising and lowering of equipment—all of it at dizzying and unsafe altitudes. Interestingly, and of anthropological interest (Orr has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Wake Forest University), the linework was accompanied by whistles, hand gestures, and calls among the linemen; this was a system of communication between the groundlings and the upper pole workers. Not only that, the entire performance was accompanied by music scored and played live by Graham Reynolds and his frequent collaborators. The lighting design by Steven Pruitt met the outdoor challenge of lighting worker/performers on a 100-foot transmission tower.
Altogether, the evening performance was doubly satisfying, both for its strong theatrical qualities and its fascinating look into the lives of workers we seldom examine closely. But these are the workers who keep our urban lives moving, a literal sine qua non. Orr made this grand point by showing it, not telling it, in the same fashion as she showed the stories of the sanitation workers a few years ago in The Trash Project.
Orr and Forklift Danceworks are also exploring additional media to carry forward the message of art in everyday life. The documentary film, The Trash Project, is circulating widely across the continent now. No doubt similar plans are afoot with Power UP. Forklift’s performances display a career on the ascent and also showcase Austin as a center for new ideas and innovation in art and life.