PowerUP educates and entertains the community through dance

Eleanor Dearman

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.”