When you think of a forklift, do you think of dancing? You probably don’t, which is exactly the mission of Forklift Danceworks. When asked to describe the mission of the group, Allison Orr peppers the conversation with phrases like “the often invisible choreography of our daily lives” and “making dancers of people who don’t think of themselves as dancers.” A member of Wake Forest University’s 1993 graduating class now based in Austin, Texas, Orr founded Forklift Danceworks in 2001 with the goal of creating an organization that would utilize creative collaboration to spark conversations and inspire change — all through the medium of dance.
“I was an anthropology major, and I had no idea that I would come back as a choreographer,” Orr says. “I began to study community-based dance, and the focus is making dancers of people who don’t think of themselves as dancers. For me, it is such an honor and privilege to come back to campus in this way and help cultivate understanding and respect for the work of the people that support the students.”
For the collaboration with her alma mater, Orr is working with members of the Wake Forest facilities and campus services team, and several professors and students in theater, dance, and music to create an on-site performance in October centered around the work of groundskeeping, construction, maintenance, custodial work, and landscaping. Wake Forest’s Interdisciplinary Performance and Liberal Arts Center (IPLACe) was awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New England Foundation for the Arts to help fund the collaboration. Humanities Professor David Phillips and Journalism Professor Ivan Weiss are working along with Orr to direct the students in job shadowing and conducting interviews with the participating facilities team members, as are professors Christina Soriano (dance), and Cindy Gendrich (theater).
The performance, which takes place next month, will represent the culmination of a year’s worth of preparations, conversations, and rehearsals, says Orr.
“Seventy-five percent of what we do is build relationships with other people,” she says. “Our job is to show the work as authentically as we can and create a real collaboration. The staff members are the real performers.”
Synchronized mowing and a sweepers’ quintet are among the planned segments of the October performance on Hearn Plaza, and Orr expects an audience of more than 1,000 people to attend. And while the public performance is the grand finale of a yearlong project, Orr returns to the long-term impact of dance as a conversation starter and community builder.
“I was a community member here, but I had no idea how much time and how many people it takes to keep a campus going,” she says. “I have loved getting to know the staff and the people here that I didn’t know.”
Wake Forest is the second of three universities collaborating with Forklift Danceworks. In addition to the dance performance, the students have also created a website to document their experiences, and many are also acting as support staff for the performance. Orr says that from beginning to end, the collaboration builds community on campus and beyond.
“This collaboration has included everything from students going along with plumbers to make repairs, to custodians, to clean dorms, to grounds crew mowing grass,” she says. “Our job is to show the work they do as authentically as we can and to help people understand how all of this work happens.
“For me personally, it has made my life richer and fuller to build a relationship with the people who do the work that sustains our lives,” Orr says. “The process of listening, collaborating, and making something together is magical, and it is important to everyone to know that people care and respect what you do.”