Choreographer Allison Orr recently spoke with “Breakthrough Entertainment” about her new documentary “Trash Dance.”
In “Trash Dance,” which screens 2 p.m. Saturday, July 13 and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 14 exclusively at the FilmBar, Orr joins city sanitation workers on their daily routes to listen, learn and ultimately to try to convince them to collaborate in a unique dance performance thereby finding beauty and grace in garbage trucks – and in the men and women who pick up our trash.
Q: What was the initial spark that lit your interest in this project?
A: I make dances with all types of people and I had long wanted to work with members of our sanitation department. It had been on my dream-list. I was first inspired by the amazing movements that they perform on a regular basis. I am also interested in exploring parts of our community that might be invisible or work behind-the-scenes. I am really interested in getting the chance to talk about those stories and those people. So this was the perfect project for me and at the time that I was getting ready to start working on the creating the dance and beginning my year of immersion getting to know the [sanitation employees], the filmmaker Andrew Garrison approached me and asked if he could come out and watch. That is really where it all started.
Q: If viewers were to walk away from this documentary with only one theme, what do you hope that would be?
A: What I hear people tell me is that it is really about honoring the beauty of labor, the dignity of hard work and the art in our everyday lives. I think that both the film and the performance connect people in a way that they might not have expected. I really had the time of my life and feel like I have friends now for the rest of my life who will do anything for me. I am just so appreciative of their generosity and their willingness to do this with me. There was so much content there for me as an artist to work with. They are such characters and their lives are so rich. It was really just a blast to get to do the whole project.
Q: It seems as though this is far outside of the comfort zone of these sanitation engineers. Was it at all difficult to convince them to to participate this project?
A: I have worked with a pretty wide range of folks – from maintenance men and rollerskaters to traffic cops and gondoliers in Venice. I found this group of people to be the group that got it from the beginning in a way that no other group ever has. I said, “Let’s create an event where we tell the true story about who you are and the true story about your job. How if you don’t show up and go to work today, how the city would come to a standstill. That we depend on of your work but rarely ever take time to stop and say thank you or really recognize the skill in it.” Most people don’t grow up saying that they want to be a garbage man. They know that there are a lot of stereotypes about who they are and why they ended up in this job. So I think that they really saw this as an opportunity.
Q: So then what would you say was your biggest challenge? Was it, perhaps, simply working with people who were not trained performers?
A: We did have a few people involved in the project who were trained performers but the majority of the people were not trained performers. Actually, most of my work in the past 10 years has been with people who are not trained performers. But I would say that the biggest difference was the scale of it all. I had never done a piece this big. This was 16 trash trucks on a tarmac that was bigger than a football field. We had 2,000 people come out to the show and did not have enough space for the other hundreds that were standing at the gate. It was a real learning curve for me to work on something this large – even just learning how to manipulate the machines and logistically how to pull off something at this level.
Q: So then, finally, how did you pull it off?
A: I had a lot of help. There was a big team behind this project. It was not at all just me. It always feels like I am not going to be able to pull it off and I am kind of in that place again. I am actually working on a new project right now with public power workers here in Austin. IIt kind of feels impossible but it’s not. I am really reminded of this beautiful moment in the film when Don Anderson – who was really one of the leaders – says, “We are going to pull this off, Allison. It is going to happen. You have got good people behind you.” I think that the one thing that I really learned is that if you put a great team together, you can do anything. I just keep coming back back to that when I am afraid that this next thing it isn’t going to work. If you have got good people behind you, then you can do the impossible.