Kat Lessor and Steph Huettner of the tbd. Dance Collective sat down with me on Vinton St. outside of Project Project on a hot Wednesday evening just before the beginning of Omaha Under the Radar. When I asked what they were looking forward to most in the festival, both remarked that in addition to the opportunity to meet potential collaborators, they were excited to hear audience interpretations of their upcoming performance at the Slowdown on Saturday, interpretations no one could forecast. This seemed fitting since they had been describing tbd.ʼs collaborative process as a sense-making process. They werenʼt looking for “the story” behind their collaborations. But they had, for example, ordered a twenty-four foot translucent parachute on Amazon, waited expectantly hoping it would work out, and discovered with glee that there were all kinds of things parachutes and dancers could do together. The dancers could don headlamps and illumine the parachute from within, play with the negative space between a floating parachute and the swinging limbs of a dancer, raise the parachute and allow viewers a glimpse of the dancers beneath it, and be birthed by the womblike fabric. The way Kat and Steph put it to me was not that they could but that they had to do these things. The parachute obliged. For me, the story they were telling was about a parachute and a dance collective. Its conclusion was that parachutes and dancers make sense together. Itʼs only fitting that both women would be delighted to find that dancers and audiences make sense together as well—not simply that they belong together, but that their encounters yield new senses or interpretations.
At noon on Thursday, as I worked on this post, a few performers and composers participated in a library talk on creativity and collaboration that I was sorry to miss. Perhaps they touched on the role of diverse sense-making activities for some of the collaborations which have helped make Omaha Under the Radar possible. Kat and Steph settled on “dreams” as a theme for their performance on Saturday because everyone dreams. Audience members could find a performance based upon dreams “relatable.” Just as importantly, each member of tbd. could work independently on a dream of their own before the group as a constructively critical team sought out the coherent threads which could be used to weave disparate pieces through an aesthetically pleasing whole. All of the pieces featured on the festival opener at Project Project on Wednesday involved contained pieces which somehow needed to be made sensible in this way.
Ray Evanoff and Kate Campbell helped me anticipate this somewhat for my previews of their performances in Field Guides 2 and 4. In Steven Kazuo Takasugiʼs Strange Autumn (2003/2004), this could mean something as simple as seating two performers close enough together on a long side of a wide table as to appear in eery union yet far enough apart that an observer could be watching the man with the amplified pages without noticing that the speaking woman has contorted her face into a silent scream. Mighty Vitamins and Screaming Plastic both put the disparate instruments undergirding their performances on display. When Phil Smith, the performerrunning the electronics for Screaming Plastic, explained his “instrument” to me, he began by talking about what each of its interconnected pieces did: a mixing board fed its outputs into its inputs; an analog/digital converter fed the mixing boardʼs final output into his laptop, where a programming language called SuperCollider allowed him to revise systems in real time; a projector received audio input from the ensemble and shone its subtly changing feedback on the performers. The groupʼs extremely high amplitude—earplugs were distributed (thank you!)—resulted in an extremely thick yet subtlychanging texture. To analyze the performance, to begin making sense of it, Phil broke his instrument down into units.
A modular logic was made explicit in Axamer Folio (2015), des