Percussion group sees “Potential” for art at Mansfield Dam


A good way to make a major statement is to find something monumental — say, a statehouse or a big bridge — and make your statement while standing directly next to it.

For this year’s Fusebox Festival, Line Upon Line have found just the thing: the looming concrete spillway of Mansfield Dam.

The Austin percussion group’s Matt Teodori is a serious cyclist. “One of the classic (bike) routes is the dam loop,” he says. The epic route is about 50 miles round trip from Central Austin. “It’s one of my favorite rides.”

On one of those rides, Teodori looked at the gigantic curving spillway and had a brainwave. “What an amazing piece of engineering.” Next, he thought: What an amazing place to have a show.

This week, less than a year later, Line Upon Line will perform three nights at the top of the dam — premiering an hourlong piece they wrote — along with seven dancers and a full light show as the sun sets.

With audience numbers capped at 100 each night, “Potential,” as the event is called (a nod to potential energy), could be the most coveted ticket of the festival. Most were already sold out at press time.

RELATED: Lighting a creative fire through the Fusebox Festival

The show’s location will be a grassy knoll at the top of Mansfield Dam, in a park operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority. The three percussion players will be spread out in a sort of natural amphitheater on the Lake Travis side of the dam.

“The dam creates Lake Travis,” Teodori says. Without the dam, the lake wouldn’t exist.

With such a monumental project comes monumental obstacles, both of logistics and the actual art show. The scale is daunting. Natalie George is tasked with lighting the space. “It really is an opportunity for Natalie to light something the size of a football field,” Teodori says.

Three percussionists were not enough to fill the expanse. Even with seven dancers, choreographed by Austin dancer turned choreographer Rosalyn Nasky, Teodori says that “the space is so huge, what would be interesting in a smaller space isn’t interesting here.”

To come up with a dance that would work, Nasky spent evenings out at the dam, taking in the space and trying to figure it out.

“It was nice to notice the details of the space,” Nasky says. There were lights that illuminate the dam each night, the traffic below, vultures taking advantage of an unattended garbage can.

The challenge “is being these little bodies in the big space,” Nasky says. “We both understood we could not fill it.”

So the tactic for her dancers will be to play with scale — with some being near and others far away, accentuating a space that is literally hundreds of times larger than the stages or galleries where dancers usually perform.

The result, she says, is “something we could only do because of the scale.”

The dancers’ movements follow the theme of potential energy. The dancers, dressed in street clothes, will play with the ideas of being at rest, ready to spring into action.

This is Line Upon Line’s second time composing music of their own, and this time, Teodori says, they’re using “what you might call the full buffalo.” Which in this case means doing more with fewer instruments — although, in typical Line Upon Line fashion, that also included them making their own instruments from wood and glass.

Ultimately, this is an experience. It’s experiencing nature and art on a highly engineered structure.

They wanted to make “sometimes music,” Teodori says. “Something you can experience only in this space.” The next time you see seven dancers and three percussionists perform atop a 200-foot dam — well, that won’t happen anywhere else, anytime soon.



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