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Arts Eclectic turns the spotlight on happenings in the arts and culture scene in and around the Austin area. Through interviews with local musicians, dancers, singers, and artists, Arts Eclectic aims to bring locals to the forefront and highlight community cultural events.Support for Arts Eclectic comes from Broadway Bank.

'The neighborhood that was': Forklift dances with Watershed Protection in Onion Creek

Forklift Danceworks

Since the early days of the 21st century, Forklift Danceworks has been producing largescale performance pieces in cooperation with various City of Austin works departments; they’ve done dances with the Fire Department, the Sanitation Department, and Austin Energy, just to name a few. Their newest work, The Way of Water: Onion Creek, partners them with Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, and has been in the making for five years.

“We started talking with Watershed Protection back in 2019,” says Forklift artistic director Allison Orr, “and we at Forklift were really interested in taking on our next project that would really involve environmental issues and had heard so many great things about Austin's Watershed Protection Department and all the good work they do.”

Orr says she wanted to highlight the hard work done by the department. “We… were really impressed by the staff, but also the challenges,” she says. “So in Austin, we – many of us, most of us – live in a floodplain. Austin is a series of floodplains. Austin is a city of a river and lots and lots of creeks. And here in Austin, we have an increased risk for flooding. Every year our risk goes up as storms get more intense, more building happens and we have [more] impervious cover. So Watershed Protection in particular needs a lot of help telling the story of why Austin's gonna flood, why we're going to flood more, and what all of us can do to be better stewards of our water.”

Forklift and the Watershed Protection Department will be telling that story through dance this week at a fitting location: an Onion Creek neighborhood that was once a populous subdivision before a series of floods led to a city buyout of the property.

“And in particular, we're working in Onion Creek Metro Park, where there used to be over 800 families that lived in this area,” Orr says. “And now there are three that remain and these are three families that did not have to move – they were allowed to stay because their homes were in safe enough positions out of water's way. And so they have also collaborated with us and helped us, guided us in the messages that they want all of Austin to understand about this beautiful place that they still call home.”

Forklift has long worked with nonprofessional dancers from within the communities in which they stage their works, but this is the first time they’ve also worked with a community choir.

That choir is led by composer and singer Vanessa Burden. “As a vocalist, there's nothing more healing – at least for me – [than] to sing,” Burden says. “And so when we were talking about this flood… that had happened, it's such an interesting and eerie place at the same time. It's beautiful and eerie and it's because there's these driveways that are empty and stuff like that. So all I see is that [this is] a place that needs healing and all I know is that how I feel and how we can transmit this loss and grief and things to nurturing and to preparing for the future. So that's the reason why the piece is named Semillas [or seeds]. It's about talking about planting the metaphorical and physical seeds for our future, basically. We are singing in Spanish and there are about, I think, 18 or 19 people and they range from high school age up to our oldest – I think [they] are in their mid sixties.”

In addition to the dance work and the community choir, there’s also a third component to The Way of Water: Onion Creek. “The piece actually starts with an audio tour,” Orr explains. “So when the audience arrives, you'll be instructed to download an app if you haven't already. We hope you bring your headphones and you will take a self-guided audio walk into the buyout, into this neighborhood. As Vanessa mentioned, it can be a little eerie for folks because this is the neighborhood that was. So there are driveways with no houses. And I felt it was really important to give people a way to arrive and understand where they were. And so after the audio tour, you'll then get to witness the performance of this extraordinary community choir followed by the dance with Watershed Protection employees. So it's in three sections, but really supports audience members to, I think, come away with a new understanding of water, of Onion Creek, and of the work that many people do to support our healthy waterways here in the city.”

'The Way of Water: Onion Creek' will be performed April 12 and 13. Tickets are free, but reservations are available at Forklift Dancework's website.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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