Opening Nights: A Paper Trail

KT Niehoff gives dance audiences a little homework.

KT Niehoff wants us to write her a letter. Several letters, actually, over the course of the next 16 months. In A Paper Trail, which debuted at the NW New Works Festival last weekend, audience members are given clipboards and asked to write one of the performers. The current audio already has text, but in future performances, you may hear your own words read back to you.

For her previous multipart performance work, Glimmer, Niehoff took her cast out of the theater and set them dancing in venues all over the city, striving to erase the boundaries between performers and audiences. For Paper Trail, the first episode in the 16-month project Collision Theory, she has the audience sneak up the back stairs and into the theater. There, situated among the seats, small individual platforms keep her dancers turning in on themselves, confined to these mini-stages. We hesitate to get close, but then we're summoned to approach (the dancers wear headset mikes). This is where the writing assignment comes in. Once those are collected, we're escorted back outside via another set of stairs, thoroughly bemused after 15 minutes of eccentrically beautiful movement. (Three performance cycles will run on Sunday at roughly 20-minute intervals.)

Early this spring, Niehoff told me how she wants dancegoers to feel the same kind of engagement people have in water-cooler conversations about Dallas. She cited those elaborate alternative universes fans sometimes construct, imagining themselves a part of a favorite book, movie, or play. Thus the pen pals recruited from Paper Trail will be involved in "dinners, films, letters, fashion shows, visual art, music, and dance"—all leading to a finale at OtB next April with an epilogue at ACT in the fall. A Paper Trail seems to be the first paragraph of a new kind of epistolary art.

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