Movie Review: Trash Dance

Is waste collection an art?

To help make the case, in 2009, Allison Orr of Forklift Danceworks embedded herself with the City of Austin‘s solid waste management department, learning about waste collection procedures, trucks and equipment, and befriending the workers. Using these experiences, she choreographed a 40-minute dance performance using 16 trucks and 24 performers (the waste collectors), which was staged for one night on an abandoned airport runway to thousands of audience members.

This unlikely scenario is the basis of the documentary Trash Dance, which is a fascinating exploration of the creative process and waste management practices. More importantly, Trash Dance brings to life the people who collect waste — telling their stories, and demonstrating their professionalism and pride in their work.

As Don Anderson, a bulk waste collector, states at the start of the film: “This lady’s crazy. How are we going to make trucks dance? Trucks don’t dance.”

It is for this reason that Trash Dance is not only captivating, but also endearing. In just over an hour, you see that trucks and their operators, can indeed dance.

Performers and choreographer take a bow

Trash Dance is heartbreaking, poignant, and exhilarating. In one scene, one worker admits his daughter will one day think her dad’s job as a waste collector is embarrassing. In another, a worker explains the need for a second job to make ends meet. The workers are real and honest and charismatic.

From an artistic viewpoint, it is fascinating to watch Allison choreograph non-dancers and large trucks, while struggling not only with her own artistic doubts, but with concerns imposed by management and the general public.

From a waste management perspective, it’s amazing to see just how automated waste collection is in Austin (compared to Halton where most collection is manual), how the street litter bins are collected, and how most collection takes place during the night.

Some of the most memorable moments of Trash Dance are when workers who initially laugh-off the performance as a “crazy idea,” find ways to meaningfully express themselves, conveying a passion and pride in their work through dance movement.

Don rehearses on crane truck

As Don states: “We’re not just these dirty people that pick up garbage. There’s some grace to what we do. You have to be skilled. You have to know what you’re doing. We all are professionals.”

And when you watch Don as he sits atop his crane truck, listening deeply to a classical score, making his truck dance — you can see the skill, you can see the professionalism. You can see the grace.

Trash Dance makes waste collection art.

About John Watson

I'm a communicator, educator and project manager with a focus on environmental and public works issues. Previously, I was the Onboarding Director for ReCollect Systems, where I implemented digital communication products for municipalities and non-profits. For eight years, I was the Waste Diversion Educator Coordinator for Halton Region, where I implemented award winning communications and outreach programs.
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