By Don Simpson | April 28, 2013
Director: Andrew Garrison
I remember when I first heard that Allison Orr was working on a dance project with the City of Austin’s sanitation department, Austin Resource Recovery. Like most Austinites, I thought that sounded like a pretty crazy idea. So, Orr was going to ask a bunch of trash [wo]men to dance for her? Or were professional dancers going to play the roles of sanitation workers? It made absolutely no sense at first, but as I learned more about the endeavor, the puzzle pieces began to fall into place. Orr saw a unique beauty in the movements of the heavy machinery utilized by Austin Resource Recovery, but she also knew that she wanted to shine a spotlight on the most under-appreciated workers in our city.
Andrew Garrison’s documentary follows Orr from the inception of the project to its sold out debut performance in Austin. Like Orr, Garrison focuses on humanizing the hardworking staff of Austin Resource Recovery, giving them ample opportunities to talk about themselves. The most honest moments are purely observational, such as when we watch the sanitation workers interact with Orr. While Orr does an excellent job of ingratiating herself into their world, it is no surprise that the sanitation workers are a bit apprehensive about Orr’s pitch. Its amazing to watch how each of them warms up to Orr; in turn, Orr involves them heavily in the brainstorming of ideas for the design of the choreography.
I think anyone who watches Garrison’s documentary is going to be a little bit disappointed by the limited footage of Orr’s actual dance production. (Here’s hoping Orr assembles a reprise production for all of the potential patrons generated by this film.) That is not to say this documentary is ineffective, because by the end credits of Trash Dance I just wanted to run up and hug every Austin Resource Recovery employee I encountered. Society often assumes that trash collectors are the dregs of the earth — dirty, smelly, uneducated, poor people who cannot find any other employer with the gumption to hire them. Garrison and Orr do a fantastic job of revealing just how far from reality society’s mindset really is, as they reveal an Austin Resource Recovery staff that is intelligent, thoughtful, highly-skilled and extremely creative. Trash Dance prompts us to view sanitation workers and their trucks in an entirely new light. This is a documentary that everyone needs to experience.