Public works vehicles get their groove on at Touch Truck Ballet


Video still from the rehearsal of Holly Bass's “Trash Dance” project with D.C.'s Department of Public Works. (Tony Hitchcock Photography)
June 8, 2014

Parking Lot 7 at RFK Stadium sounded like a rush-hour nightmare on Saturday morning. Horns blaring. Engines gunning. Sirens whirling. And over all the din, the familiar pulse of Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.” This wasn’t a traffic jam but the D.C. Truck Touch, the city’s annual free public-works-vehicle petting zoo. For the average 4-year-old, just getting behind the wheel of a stationary forklift was a thrill, but for the first time, the Department of Public Works decided the cars and trucks and things that go should bust some moves. Inspired by the 2012 documentary “Trash Dance,” city officials hired local choreographer Holly Bass to create a “Touch Truck Ballet” for public works vehicles.

“Do you want to see the trash trucks do ballet, Lily?” Eric Stuber of the District asked his young daughter, who nodded and spilled a free snow cone down her dress. “It’s going to be cool, whatever it is,” the dad said.

Like a grand divertissement parade from a 19th-century story ballet, Bass choreographed a suite of dances for Segways, trash trucks, street sweepers and bucket trucks. DJ RBI kicked things off with a lyric-less spin of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and the audience provided the “hey, hey, heys” while guys on Segways zipped around in tight circles, putting tourist tours to shame. A dozen ticket-writers shimmied around a Chevy sedan, bending low and shaking their hips as they plastered the car with pink parking tickets. Once a grooving tow-truck driver pulled the car out of the way, there was room for two dump trucks to spill trash, and then for two surprisingly agile street sweepers, which spun in tight circles like rival ballerinas turning fouettes. (The speakers, meanwhile, blared Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose.”) The grand pas de deux starred District Department of Transportation employees Nathan Campbell and Robert Dorsey, each driving a 65-foot cherry picker. As they raised their lifts, the music switched to Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” and the buckets swooped around like canoodling long-necked dinosaurs.

Campbell and Dorsey stayed aloft for the finale, and Dorsey probably set the record for highest-elevated­ dancer ever to clap along with “Happy.” Given that the sky was the limit for the Touch Truck Ballet, never was there a more literal way for the audience to feel as if it was in “a room without a roof.”

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

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