Allison Orr

Urban Forestry Division employee Maurice Segura practices rappelling down a tree for “The Trees of Govalle” on Tuesday afternoon. A choreographed climb to music, “The Trees of Govalle” tells the stories of its performers as a part of Fusebox Festival.
Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Although the employees of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department’s Urban Forestry Division aren’t classically trained in dance, they’re the stars of Forklift Danceworks’ latest production, “The Trees of Govalle.” 

The Urban Forestry Division will perform “The Trees of Govalle” on April 11 and 12 as part of Fusebox Festival. The festival opens Wednesday and celebrates art from a variety of mediums, including music, visual arts and theater. Forklift’s dance focuses on the Urban Forestry workers and the trees in East Austin’s Govalle Park. 

“By utilizing the stories of community members and featuring performances by neighborhood artists … ‘The Trees of Govalle’ will celebrate the area’s rich history and tell stories of some of Austin’s longtime residents,” according to a press release from Forklift Danceworks.

Forklift Danceworks has a 14-year history of telling
often-overlooked stories through dance, said founder Allison Orr. In the past, they’ve worked with sanitation workers, baseball teams and firefighters.

“We make dances with people who aren’t dancers — or who aren’t thought of as dancers — but who work in a skillful and artful way,” Orr said. 

Choreographer Krissie Marty said she and Orr usually find their subjects while driving around Austin, but “The Trees of Govalle” began when the Urban Forestry Division approached them. She said they received an email with the subject line: “Interested in trees?” 

“We would approach communities and ask them to collaborate,” Marty said. “But, now, we’ve gotten a bit of a following, and organizations are starting to come to us.”

Orr and Marty both trained professionally in dance, but they intentionally work with people who aren’t practiced dancers. Marty said this redefines the idea of dance and who can perform. 

“We define dancing as a design in space and time, not in having predetermined steps,” Marty said. “I ask people, ‘What is your definition of dance and dancers, and why do you define them that way?’”   

In “The Trees of Govalle,” the forest is the performers’ stage.  Orr said the dance showcases the often-unnoticed dedication the Urban Forestry Division puts into caring for the thousands of trees across Austin. 

“We get to show this amazingly hard and challenging work that people do in our community,” Orr said. 

During the process of choreographing “The Trees of Govalle,” Orr said the Urban Forestry Division employees worked closely with the Forklift team. 

“We got [the Urban Forestry Division] involved in the process,” Orr said. “So these workers aren’t just performing. They are creating right alongside our team.” 

While creating the dance, Marty took movements the workers already knew, such as tree climbing, and turned them into choreography. She said the performance highlights the work the arborists do but in a theatrical way. 

“We’re taking the movements that these workers already know and are familiar with and highlighting the beauty and elegance in them,” Marty said.

The last round of tickets will be released when Fusebox Festival opens Wednesday. The show is free to attend but requires a reservation. 

Allison Orr has turned the linemen of Austin Energy into performance artists.

Forklift Danceworks’ — a dance company dedicated to choreographing dance performances using unorthodox materials and performers — newest production PowerUP highlights the employees and machinery of Austin Energy. 

“We do performance projects that involve people you don’t typically think of as dancers using movements that come from ordinary life,” said Orr, artistic director of Forklift Danceworks. “For this project we have been working with our public power employees: the power linemen and technicians who work for Austin Energy.” 

More than 50 Austin Energy linemen have been working to learn complex, labor-intensive choreography that mimics their daily work. Orr used the linemen’s everyday equipment such as bucket trucks and cranes to create the dance. 

“The very beginning of the show there are six of us and it starts off with us checking the pole, kind of like stuff we’d normally do on the job,” Austin Electric employee Mark Herndon said. “[Allison] has really thrown together one heck of a show. It’s going to be so cool to see what everyone does from the underground people, to the overhead guys, to even the transmission guys. It’s like a little taste of what everyone does at Austin Energy.” 

In order to create this show, Orr and her team studied and met with Austin Energy representatives over the past two years. After watching the workers, Orr was able to work with them to create the most effective choreography. 

“All of the choreography was really created in collaboration with the performers,” Orr said. “The choreography is derived from their work and it really comes from the employees themselves.“ 

Orr raised funds through a Kickstarter campaign to hire a live string orchestra to accompany the show. The music was written by Graham Reynolds, known for his work on films like “Bernie” and “Before Midnight.” 

“Part of what I love about collaborating in general is that it pulls me in directions that I wouldn’t otherwise go if I just sat down at a piano like I normally might,” Reynolds said. “The shows that Allison does bring entirely different kinds of collaborators that normally aren’t thought of as artist[s] which really brings me to a whole new place, so that’s a part of the process I really enjoy.” 

Orr hopes the audience gains a new understanding of the work that goes into providing Austin with the electricity it needs. 

“I’m really inspired by telling the story of people whose jobs sustain us but who most people know little or nothing about,” Orr said. “I’m hoping that I will create a work that really connects and inspires people on an artistic level, aesthetically through the movement, but also educates us about the community and the people who may seem invisible but whose work we really rely on for our lives to go well.”

Herndon said that he and the other employees at Austin Energy are proud of the work they do for the community. 

“It’s really kind of educating the audience, and the tax payers of Austin to see the art of what we do for a living,” Herndon said. “We’re so proud of what we do and we are just happy to be able to show it off to someone.”

Forklift Danceworks is expecting an audience of more than 6,000 people for its two performances of PowerUP at the Travis County Expo Center this Saturday and Sunday. 

“You are never going to see anything like this ever again your life,” Orr said. “But also you’re going to learn something about all the work it takes to turn on that light switch in the morning.”