Splash Dance

Austin's most unconventional dance company explores 'The Way of Water' in new series

Austin's most unconventional dance company explores 'The Way of Water'

Synchronized swimmers float in a pool lit from below for a Forklift Danceworks project in Austin.
Forklift Danceworks is partnering with the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department for a new project, like this past project about Austin's pools. Photo by Amitava Sarkar

In yet another win for dancers who don’t know they’re dancers yet, Forklift Danceworks took home a $125,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. This Our Town award supports “The Way of Water,” an international and “multi-year performance project” around water as a natural resource. It is one of 51 similar grants nationwide.

Forklift asks everyday civic workers to embody their jobs in an artful way, to music (hey, that’s dance!). Past projects have included “Trash Dance,” a performance and documentary about Austin sanitation workers (some of them driving Austin Resource Recovery vehicles in tandem), and “PowerUP” with Austin Energy employees on utility poles.

Although the obvious functional intention — to start conversations and amplify artistic voices from unlikely demographics around Austin — is always in full-force at Forklift, the aesthetic intention does not suffer along the wayside. These dances are beautiful, ethereal, and deeply emotional, even to audiences unfamiliar with blue-collar labor.

"’The Way of Water’ brings an opportunity to elevate the work of our Watershed staff,” said assistant director of Austin Watershed Protection Ramesh Swaminathan in a press release. “Revealing the artistry of our field crews' work, our collaboration with Forklift will help the public understand our staff's challenges as they serve our community."

The Way of Water” is developed, starting in 2022, in partnership with the Austin Watershed Protection Department. Forklift founder and artistic director Allison Orr starts projects by intensively shadowing dancers (i.e. workers from the partner organization) on the job, choreographing using their natural movements and tools. In this case, the jobs under Orr’s microscope are largely engineering-based, aiming to prevent flooding, erosion, and water pollution.

This is Forklift’s seventh effort with a department of the City of Austin, and one of several water-centric projects. One sprawling project focused on the city’s pools and swimmers; another used fire hoses for spectacle. “The Gondola Project,” made nearly 20 years ago, was one of Forklift’s defining projects and featured Venetian gondoliers. “The Way of Water” will return to Venice, Italy, make a stop in Miami, Florida, and continue collecting inspiration in more unnamed cities.

“Through this project, Forklift Danceworks will trace the way water moves in our city,” said Forklift associate artistic director and community collaborations director Krissie Marty in the release. “[This project] will delve into our deep ties to water–as a resource, recreation, and worksite–in Austin. We look forward to partnering with Austin Watershed Protection and neighborhoods to tell these stories.”

This grant comes in addition to another $20,000 NEA grant for the project. The first performance in this series, “The Way of Water: Waller Creek,” will premiere in partnership with Waterloo Greenway from November 10-12. More information, including dives into two decades of current and past work, is available at forkliftdanceworks.org. The free tickets will be released via email and social media announcement.