The series ‘A Year In’ catches up with artists now that the coronavirus pandemic has passed its one-year mark.
For dancer and choreographer Taryn Lavery, the pandemic wasn’t a time to pivot to digital. Instead, the forced pause in live performing only reinforced for the Utah native and Austin resident, that dance for her is singularly tied to sharing physical space with other moving, breathing bodies, be they dancer or audience member.
Co-director and founder, along with Alex Miller, of the project-based dance company Austin’s BLiPSWiTCH, Lavery fuses her classical background with a desire to revitalize modern dance for broader audiences, extracting a new form of contemporary performance.
Within Austin’s fluidly collaborative modern dance scene, Lavery has performed with Jennifer Sherburn, multimedia performance company, ARCOS, and has also worked with Performa/Dance, Collide Arts, SEAM Project, L.O.L.A., Ready/Set/Go!, Blue Lapis Light and Sky Candy. She’s also been a back-up dancer for bands and in music videos, including with A Giant Dog, The Band of Heathens, Sweet Spirit and Dr. Joe.
Sightlines: What were you working on when the lockdown began in mid-March 2020? What was the first of your work you saw cancelled or lost?
Taryn Lavery: Wow, where to begin? Even just by March, 2020 was on track to be a very generative and artistically fruitful year, and BLiPSWiTCH itself was in various stages of development on four different projects.
My creative partner Alex Miller and I had recently finished rehearsals with dancers for a new BLiPSWiTCH stage piece to premiere at Austin Dance Festival and we were re-setting a duet to be performed in support of Performa/Dance’s fundraising gala. We had also been commissioned for choreography in partnership with a local photographer for a photo series premiere, and we were in the early stages of working on our newest evening length production for May, with 11 dancers and three musicians already signed on. Outside of my work with BLiPSWiTCH, I was also contracted to perform with Performa/Dance at the Blanton Museum — the first event to be officially cancelled — and to stage manage for the Fusebox Festival.
S: What part of the pandemic were you surprised to find being a creative benefit?
TL: I discovered growth and silver linings within my personal and emotional life. But to be honest, I struggled to find any benefits artistically and creatively. The loss of feeling the physical contact and movement of other human beings brought with it bouts of guilt, shame and depression surrounding my inability to connect to my full artistic self. And rather than feeling connected and anchored to my dance communities near and far through the accessibility of technology, the computer screen only represented and amplified feelings of limitation and artistic isolation.
Some companies I dance with, like ARCOS, had already been straddling the physical and virtual world within their work, and I give so much props to them and the artists who redirected their art-making to the digital sphere. I feel rewarded being a part of those experiments and projects, and appreciate the unique possibilities and access it holds for engaging with art in ever-expanding ways, but I know it is not the container within which my personal artistry thrives. The pandemic reinforced what I already subconsciously knew about my relationship to movement and creation — even though dance is an inherently personal, physical and tactile art form, for me its singular joy is also intrinsically tied to the physical space and physical community generated by and with other moving, breathing bodies (including those purely watching or experiencing).
My creative partner, Alex, values these physical tethers as strongly as I do, which is why we have come to define site-specific and site-alternate work as a central focus of the art and community we build through BLiPSWiTCH. Bringing new artists and collaborators to each project, embracing, integrating and creating within and for a singular physical space are integral to how we make work together.
Throughout the pandemic, whenever we asked ourselves if we should create something virtual, the answer was always an emphatic ‘no.’ Finding resolve in remaining when so many others pivoted was tough at times, but in that space I fortified an element of my artistry and quantified its importance in my life, so I suppose you could call that a creative benefit… Hey look, I did it after all!
S: What changes do you want to see in dance, how it’s practiced and how it’s presented? What should the so-called new normal of dance look like?
TL: There is such value in the practice and sharing of this form, but there is a real need to let go of what doesn’t serve communities and individuals, including the patriarchal and racist modes and hierarchies that have been enmeshed in dance. I think this past year has brought more voices to the forefront that have long needed to be listened to and I would like to see these voices continue to be not only amplified but supported and accounted for in breaking down harmful systems.
I have also enjoyed experiencing and witnessing dancers and choreographers stretch, flip, subvert and expand what were once thought of as limitations within the art form. One of the uniquely beautiful things about dance is its capacity for infinite possibility and interpretation: what one may experience or define as dance will be as different to the person next to them as the person themselves, and even without speaking, whether dancer or viewer, there is a shared participation — that thread between them, that is the magic stuff. As dance artists, I hope we continue to harness that boundless creativity to dream up dance in more (physical and digital) places, for more people, with more people. Let’s weave more threads.
One day I’d love to tell someone I’m a dancer and have them respond by sharing a distinct experience that they have personally had with dancing or witnessing dance. That’s rare — I’d love that to be part of a new normal.
S: Artistically, what’s next that you look forward to and are excited by?
TL: I am about to step into some transmedia work with ARCOS for their upcoming offerings, and BLiPSWiTCH is taking time to formulate what our next endeavor may be. We premiered our first live production in over a year, “Dear V,” in April and the process of creating an entire evening-length work with new collaborators and sharing the fruits of that process with an audience we could see and feel, it was like drawing the deepest collective breath. I am so excited to create from a place where live art experiences are blooming.