Review: UNSTILL LIFE by Blipswitch
by David Glen Robinson


Blipswitch Movement has just finished its latest big show in Austin, Unstill Life, at the historic Wolf House a few blocks east of I-35 on Cesar Chaves St. in east Austin. The brainchild of Taryn Lavery, Alex Miller, Nathan Brumbaugh, and Lucy Wilson, the group has extended its quirky signature pattern of finding alternative performance spaces in which to install its work. From the Curtain Theatre (and surrounding fairyland) in far western Travis County to The Long Time baseball park (2 shows) in far eastern Travis County, Blipswitch inhabits all their spaces with an exquisiteness that makes the spaces feel like their wholly-owned properties. With this show, the Queen-Anne-style Wolf House, built between 1900 and 1903 with its three storeys of asymmetric design, becomes the performative world of Blipswitch and the perfect match to its aesthetic vision.


(design & photo credits: Taryn Lavery)


Self-description is not always key, but the Blipswitchers are helpful with theirs. They say in their promotional material: “Fourteen dancers will inhabit seven spaces, with each room and its cast embodying and investigating a distinct point in time— often through satire, occasionally with gravity, sometimes interrogating, but always exploring… and never taking ourselves too seriously. Travel through time with us, roaming freely and lingering at your leisure.”


Roaming the ancient halls of Wolf House was treat enough but stopping in at the rooms-turned-stages felt distinctly like time-traveling through living dioramas or walk-through Fabergé eggs, each with a contrastive color palette, music, and movement vibe. The show overall had a distinct timeline, from 1700's Versailles (or thereabouts) to the 1990's. But we were invited to roam freely, time unstuck and out of durational order, and that’s what the audience pursued. The following scattered impressions are true to that invitation.


Cara Cook, Celeste Canfield (BLIPSWITCH photo)

Gremlins playing in the kitchen after the humans went to bed. What other kind of creature would dance an extended duet while mixing and toasting martinis? Cara Cook and Celeste Camfield danced compelling duets through cooking a full dinner and baking a cake. No kidding, actual cooking and booze while dancing. The kitchen was a mess when they finished but smelled great.


The back upstairs bedroom showed us a world of confinement. It was teenage girls, not allowed to go out, partying in the imposed crib, and doing it with dance intensity. Sarah Navarete and Alexa Capareda rolled around, took naps, and traded shots with elastic bands. They danced powerful contemporary dance solos against late 80s/90s pop music and news broadcasts. The soundtrack took a threatening turn with MTV news reports of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, O.J. Simpson’s trial verdict, the start of the Persian Gulf War, and other dark-tinged news. The performance in the secure bedroom seemed an autobiographical memoir of the choreographers, perhaps one acknowledging a more dangerous world outside that they would enter upon adulthood.


Karson Hood, Emily Tolson, Camille Wiltz (photo by Taryn Lavery)


Another bedroom, reported in background material to date to the 1700s, was a piece entitled “Palace Salon,” no doubt a back parlor at Versailles. Several be-laced and be-drag-queened characters, played out dominance and control rituals and ultimately a longish game of cards with Mozartian classical music playing. The performers played through their lace skillfully throughout the cycles of performance. They were Karson Hood, Emily Tolson, Camille Wiltz, and Lisa del Rosario. As always, del Rosario was the standout in all the dancing, comedy, and over-the-top acting. The sequence ended with the bedroom trashed with lace, cards, poker chips, and confetti.


The double second floor room or two parlors were open to each other for the performance. The rooms boast a fireplace at the far ends of each, with windows around three sides. In symmetry, Unstill Life positioned one dancer in each room, with a table in the divide, and ropes strung around. Why the ropes? We found out soon enough. The performers were Siri Cyan and Rosalyn Nasky. Each performed a series of tasks, initially without regard to each other. Memorably, Nasky hoisted chunks of firewood onto her body in its floor-length costume and stacked the wood by her ornate fireplace (no fire in either fireplace; the fire marshal would have intervened). Nasky moved the splintery, bulky chunks without using her hands. Then the performers addressed the ropes and leather strapping as by invisible cueing and wrapped themselves in them. The equestrian imagery reminded one of parts of the Blipswitch show A Hair Can Split the Difference last year at The Long Time. Looking at each other with impassive faces, the two performers in separate rooms performed slow-motion duets connected by long straps and fastenings, forward and back, on the table and furniture and off again. Undoubtedly, Cyan and Nasky took home the Most Bizarre trophy at the end of the run.


Hailey Lauren (BLIPSWITCH photo)


One dancer, Christina Mitchell, performed girl ablutions á la performance art in the downstairs bathroom. A large performer moving in a confined space to comedic effect, she could hardly dance, but then who can, hemmed in by porcelain?


Melissan sanderson, Camille Wiltz (photo by Taryn Lavery)In the downstairs study, three dancers garbed in 19th century lawyers’ gear opined on women’s education to hilariously self-satisfied effect. The sequence amounted to mockery of hegemonism in the 1800s. It worked beautifully in the parlor of the well-appointed, slightly out-of-period Wolf House. Dancing in top hats, white ruffs, and short skirts, skilled dancers Hailey Lauren, Melissa Sanderson, and Anna Bauer were clearly having fun with the choreography, and almost but not quite condescending to a Dickensian take on history.


Unstill Life was a mosaic, a kaleidoscope, a swirl. The strong instances of moving in a heartbeat between pedestrian movement and fine arts dance were very like the performances of Pina Bausch and Tanztheatre Wuppertal, the highly regarded modern and postmodern German company. Bausch choreographed her lengthy world-class shows for performance by recruited ballet dancers, not actors, and she tapped into something at once other-worldly and humanly inspirational. All her dances were lovesongs to the world. Blipswitch is not the reincarnation of Tanztheatre Wuppertal (they are still in business at all), but they exhale an atmosphere of seeing the fine arts sheen on the objects of ordinary reality, hence their commitment to alternative spaces. Blipswitch shows many of us that the switch from the mundane to fine arts magic is just a toe-pivot away.


Unstill Life is a work developed over a few years by artistic directors Taryn Lavery and Alex Miller with assistance on some segments from Lucy Wilson. The online credits show immense amounts of work by this group, especially in the realm of sound mixing, with large numbers of music and sound samples for each of the performance segments. A side show of twenty art photos of the cast taken by Lavery is on display at CTXLiveTheatre (click HERE to view).


Unstill Life is gone now, but follow Blipswitch Movement online. There’s no telling where they will turn up next.




Unstill Life
by Blipswitch

February 21 - February 24, 2024
The Wolf House
Austin, TX, 78702

February 21-24, 2024

7:00 pm & 7:45 pm

Wolf House | 1602 Cesar Chavez St.

Each day offers two entrance times— 7:00pm and 7:45pm. Through the use of set choreographies and improvisational decision-making, the dancers will perform continuously for the full 1.5 hours each evening, and the second block will end at approximately 8:30pm.

We look forward to greeting you at the door!

Tickets: sliding scale $25 and up, available online HERE