Go Deeper

Social Acrobatics Turn Physical in Tangle Movement Arts’s Break/Drift/Resist

Posted September 4th, 2013

Experience the throes of social acrobatics as interpreted by a the close-knit band of intensely physical artists of at at the intersection of dance, theater, music, and circus arts, as Tangle Movement Arts returns to 2013 Fringe Festival with Break/Drift/Resist. Tangle Movement Arts transcribes transcribes the diverse challenges posed by everyday engagements into a dense forest of trapeze work. FringeArts recently spoke with founder Lauren Rile Smith to clue in on her unique vision, get a breakdown of the piece, and discuss her anticipations for the Festival.

FringeArts: When did you get your first taste of circus arts?

Lauren Rile Smith: My first exposure to circus arts was via LAVA, a Brooklyn-based feminist performance company that merges acrobatics and dance. I had no background in dance or gymnastics, but I was transfixed by the strength and range of their performance. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with interdisciplinary circus as a platform for community-building, putting strong women onstage, and performances that challenge expectations for both genre and gender.

BreakDriftResist-PressPhoto2FringeArts: How did Tangle Movement Arts get together?

Lauren Rile Smith: We formed Tangle in 2010 with the goal of making circus-dance-theater with feminist values. To me, circus arts provides a context in which to question our assumptions about what bodies can do— and not just in the obvious ways! In our shows, you get to see a body upside-down or spinning twenty feet in the air, but you also get to see women who lift the weight of their own bodies and the bodies of others, blend flexibility and strength, and demonstrates powerful physical intimacy that doesn’t need to be sexual or romantic. It feels like a powerful tool for building queer and feminist community, and allows us to tell stories that aren’t usually represented on stage.

Tangle began when I and seven fellow acrobats came together to create our very first show for the 2011 Philly Fringe. Our sold-out debut Ampersand put us on the scene, and we’ve continued to make aerial dance theater, from our collaboratively devised full-length shows to our popular, free outdoor showcase series, tinycircus. We’ve had such great support from Philadelphia audiences. The visibility of circus arts is rising nationwide, from giant touring shows like Cirque Éloize’s Cirkopolis coming to to the Kimmel Center in 2014 to the aerial yoga classes springing up across Philadelphia. Tangle’s interdisciplinary mix of circus, dance, theater, and live music has put us in touch with these diverse communities in a way that continually inspires us.

FringeArts: What inspired this latest work, Break/Drift/Resist?

Lauren Rile Smith: Tangle’s performances happen at the intersection of dance, theater, and circus arts, which means we create complex ensemble work that you don’t generally get to see in the world of aerial acrobatics. For this show, we wanted to use aerial equipment in innovative ways, to generate new types of movement. In Break/Drift/Resist, we’ve turned our stage of circus equipment into a novel; a surreal landscape aiming to mirror the interactions of everyday life. We wanted to create a dense forest of trapeze and ropes for our characters to navigate. At times the aerial equipment is an obstacle to fight past, and at other times it is the path to traverse.

In urban traffic, complex patterns emerge from simple paths, as thousands of people intersect on their daily travels. To capture this in aerial dance, we created a series of layered circus apparatuses. Two ropes rigged an arm’s length apart create an initial traffic system: performers travel up one rope, hang suspended in the space between, slide down the next rope, and cycle back to start again. Our story begins when that cycle gets interrupted and our characters are forced to find new paths.

BreakDriftResist-PressPhoto1FringeArts: Could you fill us in on how Tangle Movement’s feminist grounding shapes the structure of Break/Drift/Resist?

Lauren Rile Smith: Break/Drift/Resist is inspired by the warmth and friction of a close-knit community inspired by our largely female and queer circles of friendship and partnership. We wanted to use aerial dance and acrobatic partnering to diagram in movement the way one person’s action can ripple through a group; sometimes your life is transformed by a person you barely know, and sometimes opening a window for yourself slams a door on someone else.

To animate these conflicts in aerial dance, we rigged a trapeze, a dance trapeze, and an aerial hoop all on top of one another, to create a dense column of ropes and steel bars. This aerial cluster twists and changes shape as the performers climb, reflecting an ever-evolving situation. Another dancer performs on the aerial hoop while her body is wrapped in a length of aerial fabric. As she struggles to escape, she transforms the fabric into a web that both traps and supports her.

From a feminist perspective, we place a huge value on the diverse range of relationships between women, which frequently get erased in mainstream conversations. The diversity of ways that friends take care of each other–or betray each other–is fascinating and frequently unnamed. In Tangle’s performances we amplify those connections with our bodies. I am literally supporting my friend’s weight or leaving her hanging!

FringeArts: What excites you about the Fringe Festival this year?

Lauren Rile Smith: I’ve found that the Fringe Festival helps make Philly an amazing artistic community. Starting with our debut in the 2011Festival, we’ve had such an amazingly warm reception in Philadelphia. The Festival paves a valuable path for new arBreakDriftResist in rehearsaltists, and connects both seasoned and emerging performers with an audience that’s hungry for innovation and risk-taking. Every year we’ve been part of the Festival, we’ve broadened our community, and I am always excited to come back.

As a festival goer myself, I’m excited about so many upcoming Fringe shows that connect dance and theater, explore nontraditional spaces, and dig into gender in performance– including Leah Stein Dance Company’s Adjacent Spaces, Y2D Productions/Chamäleon Productions’ LEO, Pantea Productions’ Beyond the Light, Birds on a Wire’s HATCH, Kaleid Theatre’s Glow, Pillar Dance’s Diakinesis, and Brian Sanders’ JUNK’s Hush Now Sweet High Heels and Oak.

FringeArts: What’s next in store for you and Tangle Movement Arts?

Lauren Rile Smith: In the middle of Fringe chaos, we’re still starting to dream up our next show, for spring 2014. We’re always interested in how we can push the contemporary circus envelope further: more storytelling, more ensemble work, more innovative circus equipment. We want to go even deeper into our collaborations with live musicians, and are thinking about the “music” that an aerialist can create with her own body. I also have a long-running dream of performing a doubles trapeze piece while singing a duet with my partner!

But in the short term, you can catch us next month at the Fishtown River City Festival on October 6th, when we’re performing a brief free public show at Penn Treaty Park.

Check out what Tangle Movement has been up to lately in this promo video!

Tangle Movement Arts’s Break/Drift/Resist runs September 5 through 7 at Phialdelphia Soundstages, 1600 N. 5th Street, Kensington. Times vary, $20.

–Maya Beale