Over the past 14 years, Forklift Danceworks has staged numerous large-scale shows that explore the choreography of everyday people and the beauty found in unexpected professions. Several of those shows have focused on the employees of City of Austin departments -- they've produced dances with the city's Sanitation Department, with Austin Energy, and Austin's Urban Forestry Division, to name a few.
After their last project with the Parks Department, Forklift was asked to consider doing something with the city's Aquatics Department. "We had long been wanting to try a project that would really tackle a city planning issue in a creative way," says Forklift artistic director Allison Orr. "And we felt like aquatics would be a perfect opportunity."
Once they decided to work on a project that explores Austin's pools and Aquatics staff, the Forklift crew got to work. "We have been attending swim lessons, we've been going out with the maintenance staff, and just being amazed at what everyone does to keep the pools running," says co-director Krissie Marty.
Soon, Forklift was reaching out to staff members for input and to recruit performers. Paul Slutes, Austin' Aqautics Maintenance Supervisor, was onboard with the project pretty quickly. "I met Allison and she gave me this movie called Trash Dance [a documentary about an earlier Forklift project]," Slutes says. "And I watched it... and I sent her a text and said 'Wow, that really brought tears to my eyes.' That really means something. I was like, 'Wow, this is really cool. I can get behind this.'"
Adrian Ortega, a Recreation Program Specialist with the Aquatics Department, was brought in do some artistic swimming as part of the project. "I've been swimming all of my life -- it's just something I do," he says. "But it wasn't until Krissie and Allison told me that it was beautiful that I really kind of started to take a second look at the things that I do and the way I approach it."
This summer's production, Bartholomew Swims, is the first part of a three year partnership between Forklift and the city's Aquatics Department. This one will take place at Bartholomew Pool, with two more dances coming in 2018 and 2019 at two other Austin pools.
For the folks at Forklift and the city staff, Bartholomew Swims is an opportunity to give people a behind-the-scenes look the (surprisingly) small staff that keeps Austin's 51 city pools in good running order. "We work with some old facilities, so it takes quite a talent and a lot of work behind the scenes," Slutes says. "We go out there every day and basically fight battles with some of these pools," he adds with a laugh. Many of Austin's pools are half a century old or more, so keeping them running like new is no small feat for Slutes and his team.
About the upcoming dance, Slutes says, "It's a confidence booster. It lets our staff know that 'Hey, somebody's out there. Somebody cares what we do."