The Austin Chronicle

Allison Orr Named 2018 USA Fellow

By Robert Faires, January 16, 2018, 1:00pm, All Over Creation

Sometimes the good folks do get the recognition they deserve. Case in point: Allison Orr, founder and artistic director of Forklift Danceworks, whose choreographic career has had as much to do with building community as building dances, has just been named one of the 2018 USA Fellows, an honor that comes with an unrestricted award of $50,000.

United States Artists is a philanthropic organization that supports the nation's individual artists through annual fellowships that are, as it likes to say, "intended to provide artists the financial freedom to experiment and grow in ways that might otherwise have been impossible." Each year USA accepts nominations for deserving art-makers in nine categories – architecture & design, crafts, dance, literature, media, music, theatre & performance, traditional arts, and visual arts – and from them selects that year's fellows.

Orr is one of 45 fellows named this week and the only Texan in this year's class, though she joins a group of distinguished Central Texans who have received the USA honor over the past decade: choreographer Deborah Hay, playwright and novelist Kirk Lynn, filmmakers Anne Lewis and Heather Courtney, poet A. Van Jordan, and musician Hannibal Lokumbe.

Orr has spent most of her two-decade career in Austin, making dances with people who are not typically considered dancers. She sees dance in everyday movement and builds performance pieces around the gestures, steps, and motions of people, animals, and machines at work and at play: dogs and the humans who walk them, Venetian gondoliers, Japanese baseball players, Texas two-steppers, Austin firefighters, traffic cops, urban forestry workers, city utility workers, moms-to-be, roller skaters, and Elvis impersonators. The scale may be epic, as in The Trash Project, a celebrated 2009 project with the city's Resource Recovery Department (see the award-winning doc Trash Dance), or intimate, as in 2012's Solo Symphony, a haunting work with Austin Symphony Orchestra conductor Peter Bay, but Orr always makes us see the world as brimming with dance. She and Forklift have also collaborated with VSA Texas to create Body Shift, a program to serve mixed-ability dancers. All of these efforts have earned Orr the "Outstanding Choreographer” award from the Austin Critics Table on three occasions and the “Best Choreographer" honor in The Austin Chronicle’s Readers Poll in 2016 and 2017. Orr is currently at work on a three-year project on Austin's public swimming pools, My Parks, My Pool, My City.

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