By Sharon Smullen
Photos courtesy of Forklift Danceworks
According to Allison Orr, dance and dancers can take many forms. As artistic director of Forklift Danceworks
, she finds her inspiration in the most unlikely places.
Take the world of institutional food service. Day and night, these often invisible workers move through dining halls and kitchens catering to the needs of hungry hordes. At Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., their lives revolve around feeding wholesome food to students oblivious of their efforts.
Next weekend in Paresky Center, Forklift Danceworks presents "Served,"
propelling the kitchen workers into the spotlight by transforming everyday occupational activities into dynamic dance routines.
Instead of burgers and honeybuns, a new menu of moves includes a mop-wielding trio (Gene Kelly fans take note) and some sharp synchronized knife skills. Dinner service will never be the same.
The program begins with small group tours of dining facilities — kitchen prep, bake shop, stockroom — to see staff at work. A 30-minute performance by some 50 employees follows in the Great Hall, viewed from balconies overlooking the large open space. The event ends with a banquet prepared as part of the dance.
Composer Graham Reynolds replaces dining hall clatter and chatter with an original score performed by a nine-piece student jazz ensemble joined by guest luminaries digital violinist Todd Reynolds, bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer alum Jason Lucas. The production is enhanced by Stephen Pruitt’s lighting and set design.
Top: Allison Orr. Below: Krissie Marty.
Based in Austin, Texas, Orr and associate choreographer Krissie Marty spent two years visiting Williamstown, building relationships and researching the kitchen staff's daily activities. Through observation, dialogue and experimentation they worked with the volunteer participants, forming a creative collaborative community.
For 15 years, Orr has choreographed municipal groups including sanitation workers (captured in the award-winning documentary “Trash Dance”), fire fighters, baseball players — even pole-dancing Venetian gondoliers — attracting crowds of up to 3,000 spectators.
This is her first educational institution, with a tiny audience capacity of 200. ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance producing director Randal Fippinger invited the company east for a non-traditional residency involving staff instead of students.
Orr describes her approach as making dance with people that don’t identify as dancers, through choreography inspired by the movement of everyday work. From the outset, she explains there’s more to dance than toe shoes and tutus. No pirouetting in the pantry here, or a conga line of cooks.
Orr credits her mentor, noted choreographer Liz Lerman, with helping her blend twin passions of dance and anthropology. But there’s nothing new about vocation-driven content, she noted. As Williams director of dance Sandra Burton observes, people have been making dances about work forever.
In this collaboration, participants “curate how they’re represented, what stories they want told about themselves and their work,” Orr said. Many have worked at Williams since high school, and have a real expertise, caring deeply about their work and the students they serve. There’s a long connection to the dignity of labor and hard work in New England, where doing a trade well is admired and respected, she noted.
The finale includes elements of the whole kitchen community. Just like a conventional dance production, in kitchen service everybody contributes to a whole that couldn’t happen without their involvement. “It’s greater than the individual,” Orr said.
As Williams Dining Services takes great pride in its mostly made-from-scratch food offerings, the staff will share a banquet with the audience following the performance. That was very important to the employees, who asked from the very beginning what people would be eating, Orr noted.
While her husband didn’t have silverware in mind when he named the company Forklift, in “Served” Orr will throw everything, even the kitchen sink, into a celebration of food service staff and their work.
“Think of it like a cooking show to music,” she suggests.
To see other Forklift productions in action, check out this video
"Served," a dance for college campus employees
Friday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. & 3 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 3 at 8 p.m.
Paresky Center, 39 Chapin Hall Dr., Williamstown, MA
Tickets are free and reservations are required.