'Skate! A Night at the Rink': Heaven on Wheels

Choreographer Allison Orr liked the moves she saw at the rink so much, she invited local skaters to dance

Allison Orr and Ann Berman Get Down on It
Allison Orr and Ann Berman "Get Down on It"

"This is a happening."

That was Allison Orr's reaction when she first ventured into the Playland Skate Center a few years ago and witnessed the crowds of Central Texans on wheels. "People you would think would never do this are out there, moving in ways that you just wouldn't think they would," says the choreographer and artistic director of Forklift Danceworks. "They're like flipping upside down and lifting each other off the floor. And it's very diverse – racially, classwise. All different kinds of people. It seemed like this performance already happening." So Orr figured why not make it a true performance – a dance production based around skating, starring people who skate?

It was a natural step for a dance-maker who has worked choreographically with Austin firefighters and Venetian gondoliers, with infants in strollers and women over 60, with dogs and the people who walk them. Orr often sees beauty in natural movements by people (and animals) who are untrained as dancers, and when she builds a dance around a particular community – as with the firefighters and gondoliers – she invites members of that community to participate in it. It's a way, she says, of developing relationships with people in the community and celebrating the community. Once she saw the skaters at Playland, a dance made sense. "This is a community that really has something to celebrate," she says. "That's really what it's about. A lot of these people are performing, and I'm just giving them an opportunity to do their thing."

Starting in January, Orr and Theresa Hardy and Ann Berman, her dance partners from last year's Elvis extravaganza The King & I, began skating at Playland on a regular basis and would approach people they thought might want to be in the show. "One of the first people I asked was the roller-skate instructor, Michael – Mr. Roller Skate, as he prefers to be called," says Orr. "He was like: 'Hell yeah, I'll be in your show.' And he knows everybody. We watched and wrote down who we really liked, who really caught our attention. We wanted a diverse look, so we asked lots of different kinds of people. Pretty much everybody said yes and is really excited about doing it."

Unlike The King & I, the dancing in Skate! A Night at the Rink won't be created primarily by Orr. "I'm not the choreographer," she is quick to insist. "To most people, I'm just saying, 'Do what you always do right here.' It's really me letting these people show themselves."

These people include some competitive figure skaters, a few Texas Rollergirls, a team of jam skaters, and Jerry, a 71-year-old transplant from Chicago who has been skating since 1943. "Most of them started at 2, 3, 4 years old, and all of them have stories," says Orr, so woven into the soundtrack will be recordings of people telling their tales of the rink. It's a way for the audience to get closer to these skaters figuratively, but everyone who comes will get closer to them literally, as well. Chairs will be set up on the rink itself – two rows along one long side of the oval – so audience members can feel the whoosh of air as the skaters breeze past.

Expect plenty of quintessential skating-rink music: Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," Kool & the Gang's "Get Down on It," Donna Summer's "Last Dance," Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" ("That's the only way I could ever figure out how to choreograph to Journey," confesses Orr), and some vintage organ music recorded live by Jerry at a rink in 1956.

Don't expect to see Orr in the spotlight though. Beyond a childhood fixation on the movie Xanadu, she had little personal connection to the rink. "It's not like I love skating myself," she admits. "I'm not a good skater. I mean, I'm pretty bad. My idea was: 'I just want to see this happen. I just think this would be really amazing. We could get lights and music and make them all focus, and we could call it a show. Wouldn't that be really cool?'"

Skate! A Night at the Rink takes place Thursday, July 24, and Sunday, July 27, 8pm, at Playland Skate Center, 8822 McCann. For more information, call 474-8497 or visit www.forkliftdanceworks.org.

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Skate! A Night at the Rink, Allison Orr, Forklift Danceworks, The King & I, Theresa Hardy, Ann Berman, Playland Skate Center

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