Choreographer crafts the common into the creative
Friday, February 1, 2013 |
- PHOTO COURTESY OF LEON ALESI Choreographer Allison Orr poses with City of Austin Solid Waste Services Department employees, from left, Gerald Watson, Sam Anderson and José Tejero who were part of the cast in The Trash Project, which featured dances that included workers’ bodies and equipment such as trucks, cranes and garbage bins.
By Mariah Simank
Viewpoints dinner-speaker members packed Lakeway Activity Center on Jan. 20 to hear a presentation by award-winning Austin choreographer Alison Orr.
As artistic director of her nonprofit company, Forklift Danceworks, Orr focuses on creating one-of-a-kind dances by performers who may never have set foot on a stage. Her list of dance amateurs includes firefighters, gondoliers, police officers and Peter Bay, conductor and music director of Austin Symphony Orchestra.
Orr believes that revolutionary dances can be created when one believes in the beauty of the everyday person.
“In a nutshell, I believe firmly in my heart of hearts that everybody is a dancer,” Orr said. “I feel that we’re born that way, and I think that we should all have the opportunity to perform for each other in order to show who we are and share our stories through performance and movement.”
During her undergraduate studies in anthropology at Mills College, she became fascinated with the everyday people around her.
“My undergraduate degree is in anthropology, and I start every one of my projects with an extensive research process,” Orr said. “I immerse myself in that particular community or in that person’s everyday life to really gain legitimacy, to gain trust and to gain a really deep understanding of the particular community or individual. Much like an anthropologist, I spend a whole lot of time researching and trying to become a part of the community.”
After her extensive research periods, Orr spends one-on-one time with her prospective performers to develop and rehearse dance moves that are within their everyday movements.
“I am particularly drawn to authentic, real life expressions of highly skilled movement performed by people not labeled as dancers,” she says. “For me it’s much more inspiring to see somebody who, through their work or their daily life, has become so practiced at what they do that it’s really part of who they are.”
This process allows Orr’s work to become a spectacle of the community that leaves people speechless. The Trash Project, her most famous work, drew crowds of more than 2,000 people each night.
That production featured Austin Resource Recovery department employees who showed a more personal side through dances that included their bodies and equipment such as trucks, cranes and garbage bins.
“The Trash Project was, I think, in many ways an epic work that surprised people with how beautiful and artistic and enlightening it was,” Orr said. “There were about 16 different sections that featured various elements of the job. When we remounted the show in 2011 we decided we had enough room for 2,000 seats a night, and so many people came that we eventually had to shut the gate with the line backed up all the way to I-35.”
Whether she’s working with trained dancers or the everyday citizen, Orr believes firmly that she can turn any person into a gifted dancer.
“As a choreographer I’m inspired by practical and habitual movement that comes from people’s everyday life or work experience, for I see dance as any movement that is performed in space and time,” Orr said. “I see dance happening in the roller skating rink, dance happening when a traffic cop directs traffic, or when a conductor conducts music. Not just dance happening by skilled trained dancers who went to dance school.”
With her incredible power to see the elegance of the everyday person, Orr has changed the way the public views dance.
“I had the opportunity to see one of the performances choreographed by Allison when I first came to Austin, and it just personified what a great city this is,” Jean Hennagin said when introducing Orr. “You are unlikely to find someone like Allison anywhere else but Austin.”
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