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Happy Hour on the Fringe: Conversation with Ben Grinberg

Posted May 24th, 2019

On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we had drinks with Ben Grinberg, Artistic Director of Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, instructor at Circadium and Pig Iron, and the curator and host for Test Flights, a circus scratch night. Join our conversation about how Ben found his way into circus, the growth of contemporary circus in Philadelphia, Almanac’s 5 year anniversary celebration season, and a teaser for who you may see at this July’s Test Flights! Learn more about Hand to Hand Circus Festival, running June 28—July 1.

Also, this weekend (May 24th) check out the final performances of Communitas: Five Years Later by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre.

Listen to the episode and read the transcript below.

Feature Photo by Daniel Kontz

Conversation with Ben Grinberg

[Music Intro]

Katy: Hello, and welcome to Happy Hour on the Fringe. FringeArts is Philadelphia’s premier presenter of contemporary performing arts. I’m Katy Dammers, Artistic Producer here at FringeArts…

Raina: And I’m Raina Searles, Marketing Manager. We invite you to pour one up and enjoy our conversations with some of the most imaginative people on this plane of existence. Here at FringeArts, our new work series dedicated to local Philadelphia artists called High Pressure Fire Service, or HPFS, as we like to call it, is coming to a close. At the time this episode is coming out, we have just two shows left coming up in June: The Sincerity Project #3, in 2019, by Team Sunshine Performance Corporation, which runs June 4th through the 8th, and Circuit City by Moor Mother, June 20th to the 22nd.

Katy: But today, we’re looking ahead to some of the events happening just the weekend after HPFS closes. We are presenting the second annual Hand to Hand Circus Festival, with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, and with a dynamic performance by the Circadium first-year students on the 25th, called Circadium: Springboard, and then an exciting lineup of events happening June 28th through July 1st. Today, we’re chatting with Ben Grinberg, curator and host for Hand to Hand Scratch Night, also called Test Flights, and he’s the Artistic Coordinator and Theater Instructor at Circadium, and the Artistic Director for Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. Welcome, Ben.

Ben: Thanks so much.

Raina: So, our first question, as is tradition, is what are we all drinking for Happy Hour on the Fringe? Ben?

Ben: Well, it’s 2:30 pm, so I have an iced coffee, which is delicious. Thank you.

Katy: I’m drinking tea.

Raina: And I’m having a nice glass of cold water.

Ben: That’s pretty lame, isn’t it?

Katy: We’re doing our best. Doing our best in the midst of a work day on this Friday. Happy Hour will come soon enough.

Raina: Well, we’re always happy, that’s… We’re just happy with what we’re drinking.

Katy: Ben, maybe you can start by telling our listeners, how did you get started in physical theater and in circus?

Ben: Wow, okay, sure. I was a member of the inaugural class of the Pig Iron School, which was sort of my introduction to physical theater. I had done a bunch of theater in my life previous to that, but I really had no idea that you could think about creating your own work, or think about making work that didn’t start from a script. Until Quinn Bauriedel actually came, I was in my senior year of college, and I was directing… I had a crazy idea to do a commedia dell’arte version of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap for the experimental theater company, because I was like “Oh, these characters are all such archetypes!” And it was very strange, but so, in order to get some commedia training, we reached out in the larger Philadelphia theater world and Quinn came in and taught a four-hour physical theater workshop on commedia for us, and I…

My mind was completely blown. I had never been exposed to anything with levels of tension or anything like that before, so I knew, Quinn and I knew that I wanted to go to the Pig Iron School and start getting really invested in physical theater, and then at Pig Iron, one of the classes you have to take is acrobatics, which at Pig Iron, which I don’t know if you know I teach at Pig Iron, and their acrobatics is definitely about coordination, getting strong and staying fit as a performer, but it’s also about acrobatics as a metaphor for all of the kinds of risk-taking you need to do in order to open yourself up to be an available performer.

So that was sort of my introduction to acrobatics and to circus, there wasn’t a real emphasis on technical circus, the technical circus world felt like a very different thing, when I started to encounter that, which I… At that time, Pig Iron had a relationship with the physical circus arts, so I was able to go and take classes there with Nick Gillette and Lauren Harries, which were some of my classmates that founded Almanac with me, and so, yeah, we got to start taking acrobatics classes and sort of just gone from there.

Raina: I am curious. You said you first met Quinn, like, your senior year of college, was that a path change for you? Did you have a different direction you were headed in?

Ben: Oh, yeah, I was about to go do Teach for America, and I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to do, graduating from school. I had a strange college experience. I went for two years and sort of burnt out completely and lived in New York for a year and tried to be an actor, and realized I could come back and graduate in a year if I switched my major from Systems Engineering to Classical Studies, so I ended up graduating with a degree in Classics, and I really had no… I always knew that I wanted to be an artist and I wanted to be a performer, but I think I went through that thing that a lot of people go through, which is society and maybe some family and other things preventing me from conceiving of that as a real, viable career path, and so I was looking for anything else that I could be happy doing until I finally… yeah, I think that workshop with Quinn was the moment I realized, “Oh, no, actually this is what I really need to do with my life, so…”

Katy: Ben, since then, you’ve built kind of an incredible career as a performer, you have your own company, Almanac, and then you teach circus too.

Ben: Yeah, yeah. It’s sort of crazy. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, because… So, tonight actually is the five-year anniversary of Almanac’s first full-length show, that we performed in Philadelphia.

Raina: Congrats!

Katy: Congratulations!

Ben:  [crosstalk 00:06:10]. Yeah, awesome! And yeah, so it’s been crazy with everything that’s happened in five years, and yeah, I got really interested in the overlap between dance, physical theater and circus, and that’s really where Almanac’s work exists and that’s the lens through which I teach physical theater at Circadium, and I think, also, it’s what I bring to the acrobatics teaching at Pig Iron, so… Yeah, it’s kind of funny I teach acrobatics at the theater school and theater at the circus school, and I don’t know what that means, exactly, neither… I’m not… I don’t know. I’m not quite good enough to teach circus at the circus school or theater at the theater school, they’re just… Yeah, no, it’s great. I like being able to wear all of those different hats, so…

Katy: You really have feet in both worlds, and I feel like contemporary circus is increasingly moving in that direction.

Ben: I think so, yeah, and I think that is sort of… I think you could talk to a bunch of different people and get a bunch of different opinions about what contemporary circus is, but I think when you talk about the new circus as the roots for contemporary circus, you do talk about the desire to express something other than virtuosity inside a circus, and so when you talk about that in terms of performance, I think it’s so important to look to the art forms that have already been doing that, which are theater and dance, so…

Raina: I’m curious about what that scene looks like here in Philadelphia, because when you…I mean considering the fact that you started Almanac five years ago, Circadium wasn’t actually even a school yet, at that point. They’re in their second year now of having students, and so how has that changed for you, just in the past five years, but then also, what does that look like in other areas, and how does Philadelphia compare to other areas, even worldwide?

Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Well, all of us at Circadium are super optimistic that Philadelphia is going to become a real hub for contemporary circus on a worldwide level, and I think even nationally, that is becoming the case right now, and I don’t think that that was true five years ago, six years ago. So I think that’s really exciting, the audacity to start a serious three-year professional training program has started to attract lots of different artists. There are circus artists who are moving to the city, it feels like all the time. And that’s great, because that means there’s a community that’s starting to grow and there’s a sort of criticality that can come with that, and a sort of aesthetic proposition that can come as well, with time, which is something I’m really excited about. It’s something I think Test Flights is really trying to nurture, Test Flights/this Scratch Night. What was the original question?

Raina: I’m just thinking about how it’s kind of changed over the past five years and also how Philadelphia stands within that worldwide community.

Ben: Yeah. Philadelphia’s definitely in… I think in the circus world, there’s… You know, in all the different art worlds, there are these gravitational centers and Philadelphia is sort of in the larger orbit of Montréal. I think we get a lot of contemporary circus companies that come through because they’re touring to Montréal, or that are based in Montréal, but come to Philadelphia because it’s close and Montréal really is a world capital for the art form and for contemporary circus, and we’re lucky that we’re a seven and a half hour car ride away, so it’s still accessible for us to get up there. But yeah, we’re… I think… Okay, so six years ago… I don’t know, I always think of it like actually recreational circus schools are kind of a new thing in general in the United States, like now, you can sort of say “I’m going to take an aerial class”, or “I’m going to take a silks class”, and people sort of know what that means, maybe people need a little bit of an explanation, but that’s relatively common, and I feel like ten years ago, that just wasn’t the case.

And so, yeah, there’s really been this explosion of recreational circus in the United States, and I think that was partially due to a lot of reasons I mean the success of Cirque Du Soleil, and sort of people seeing the… Yeah, this physical virtuosity in performance through that and people getting interested in it, but now all through the States, you have a lot of recreational studios that have opened, and then you have people who go through the ranks and learn all of the things they can learn at these recreational places, and then they want more, and they want to know how to turn what they’re doing, which has been a really straightforward learning of technical tricks, it’s not [inaudible 00:11:21], it’s really tough, it’s fulfilling and it’s self-actualizing and all of that, but then they want to say “Oh, what can I do with this now? It doesn’t just feel like a show that has ten different people all performing the same tricks in slightly different costumes with different music, right? How can I start to really innovate inside of this form and start to express myself with it?”

And so that’s where we are now on a cultural moment of… There are lots of people who have a lot of technical skills and want to start to become artists, and I think that’s where Circadium comes in, it’s how do we yet take people who have been training in circus, maybe their whole lives, a lot of these young people have been doing circus since they were four or five and are coming to Circadium when they’re 18 or 19, and so have incredible technical vocabularies and know how to perform in a sort of more traditional showmanship kind of way, but how do we give them the tools to be able to create work that really says something and is meaningful to them and to audiences and is sort of vital for the world? Yeah, again I feel like I didn’t really answer your question, I just went off on a different tangent!

Raina: I thought that was all great commentary.

Ben: Yeah, five years ago, Philadelphia school-

Raina: Can I just give you maybe one more question? What made you start Almanac as a dance and circus and theater group when that wasn’t as big five years ago?

Ben: Yeah, absolutely. Well, okay, so I was at the Pig Iron School, with such giants as Jenn Kidwell and Scott Sheppard and Jess Conda, all the people who are here for High Pressure Fire Service, and a classmate of mine, Nick Gillette and I started to get really interested in acrobatics, and we started to look at… “What if we could create a language of storytelling that was acrobatic inherently?” And we got inspired by some videos that another classmate, Justin Rose, was sharing with us because he had some connections to the contemporary circus world, and we started watching some videos from some French companies, like [inaudible 00:13:37] and some 7 Fingers videos and performances we were able to see, and we also were learning about clown at this moment on our, you know, Pig Iron track, and so we were really interested in this idea.

“Okay, what if we could just play ourselves and not have any real performative character-based artifice, and what if acrobatics can become kind of like task-based choreography, and so it was really hard for us. We were very, sort of thought of ourselves as folk artists in this way, we didn’t have any real technical training, but we were like, “We can learn how to do this”, right? So it really was us self-teaching ourselves in a studio for many, many hours, sometimes biting things off, like clips we found on the internet, and sometimes just contact improvising until we found some kind of lift or something that we thought was interesting, or some kind of balance, and because we didn’t really have any technique and because these things were so new to us, I think the performance of them felt really new to an audience, and then one thing that people have always said about Almanac is that we really…

The work that we make lives in this place that just vibrates between the kind of risk that makes them really concerned for the performers and also this place where they’re like, “Okay, I get that there’s some craft and some artifice around this risk”, but definitely that thing that I think a great circus does, which is it puts you on the edge of your seat, and I think the thing that you realize which was really awesome is that you don’t have to be doing the best tricks in the world in order for audiences to be engaged in that way. Actually, if you’re approaching your own limits, and if you’re testing them, if you’re letting that be seen, that’s just as exciting or can be just as exciting for an audience as seven back-tucks off a Russian swing.

Katy: But I like what you’re saying, Ben, about circus being… I think it’s so enticing for people because on the one hand, people are doing amazing virtuosic things that an average person probably looks at and is like “Oh my God, I could never do that. I could never balance in that way, I could never juggle 20 balls at the same time.” But at the same time, they’re also, as an audience member, being like “I can see myself in those people, like what would it mean to get myself there?”, or “I do know the feeling of a fear of falling, even if it’s just down the stairs”, and so circus is kind of this fascinating balance between something that’s so out of this world and yet something that is so deeply human.

Ben: Exactly, and when I think about one of the reasons why I’m interested in continuing to make circus, I think it’s because now Cirque Du Soleil, just to, you know, hate on them for a little second, not really, it’s all based in love, but it becomes so great because their shows are so amazing, they’re so spectacle-based, but for me, there’s something that’s lost, because there’s not really a sense of intimacy.

I think the scale of the production value and some of these really elaborate costumes that sort of obscure the humanity of these people. If you see people do five back flips, they sort of seem… It’s almost like you’re watching a movie, it’s almost as if it’s a special effect, right, and you don’t really get to feel breath, you don’t get to be connected with those people in any kind of human way, often, and so I think that’s why there’s a movement now in contemporary circus, to make things that are smaller in scale and more intimate and let audience members more directly interact with performers as people.

I always tell a story because when we were first making Communitas, we heard… I think it was Totem was in town, and we just overheard someone recount the story of being outside after a show, and they were like “I want my money back! If I’m going to pay that much money for a ticket, that juggler better not drop any balls!” I mean, that’s so funny, because it’s like, “Right, how have we come to a place where we watch circus performances in Cirque Du Soleil, and we expect perfection, which is the opposite of humanity, right?”

You know, there’s nothing human about getting it exactly right every single time, and for me, and I think for a lot of contemporary circus artists, the moment where something goes wrong, the moment when you drop a ball is the most important moment, it’s the moment when you can really be let in, and I think that’s to discount any traditional circus lineages, because I think lots of really traditional circus families have such an artistry around crafting that sense of “Okay, we’re going to do something and it’s going to seem really hard for us, and we’re going to craft that experience”, and the artifice around that is really useful and traditional and has been honed over many years, but I think it’s easy, for whatever reason, for artists to forget that and to say “I need to only do the things that are technically the most challenging”, so, yeah. Just reminding audiences and maybe artists sometimes of humanity.

Katy: Yeah. Well, speaking of the artists that you’re working with, tell us a little bit about who we might see on Test Flights..

Ben: Yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, there have been a couple of Philadelphia-based companies that have been operating for a while, in sort of circus adjacent landscapes, and so I’m really interested in bringing their work into dialogue with contemporary circus, as it sort of comes from a more traditional circus background, so I’m really interested in creating a night where we might see a performance by Tribe of Fools, which is a parkour-based theater company, or Brian Sanders’ JUNK, alongside some artists whose work is really going in the other direction from a really strong technical circus background into interpretive expression.

And so hopefully 3AM Theater, which is a new circus company that’s based in Philadelphia that is Kyle Driggs and Andrea Murillo, will be involved in Test Flights, and also Open Ring Circus, which is an interesting new circus collective that’s based in Philly. They’re making a piece about the Hartford Circus Fire, which is super interesting, because the combination of documentary, historical theater and circus is one that I think is super challenging, and I’m really interested to see how that piece grows and progresses. And you may end up seeing something from Almanac during Scratch Night as well, so… Yeah.

Katy: I know Almanac has so many things coming up as well, you want to tell us a little bit about all that’s on your plate for that.

Ben: Yeah, absolutely, so I mentioned earlier, this is actually the five-year anniversary of our first full-length work, so we’re in the middle, now, of our run of Communitas: Five Years Later, which has sort of been a reimagining and a reinvestigation of that first piece, and that is… I think there are two more performances, May 24th and 25th at the Funicular Station, and then on Sunday, on May 26th, we actually have a pretty giant outdoor family fitness, arts and culture fitness festival, and I think it’s really like FringeArts and Almanac and everyone’s sort of humming on the same lines here, because I think the Circus Midway that will be a part of Hand to Hand…

These invitations for the public to come and try these circus things, I think are such an important part of circus programming, because it’s just like what you said, when we watch circus artists, we do put ourselves in that place, and we imagine ourselves as these people who are taking on these incredible things and we really just naturally want to try it, so FitFest is going to be really great. We’re going to have participatory workshops from Almanac and from the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, and juggling and wire-walking and acrobatics and also hip-hop fundamentals and the Old City Sweethearts, and dance and some martial arts forms…

Basically, anything that encourages you to creatively move your body will be there, and anyone can come, all ages, and it’s free, and then in the evening, we’re going to have some performances onstage overlooking the Delaware River in Penn Treaty Park, so we’ll have a special encore performance of Communitas: Five Years Later, and some performances from Circadium and other circus artists as well, and a few dance companies, so it’s going to be great.

And then, in June, we’re remounting the newest version of Almanac’s ensemble-devised solo show, featuring Nicole Burgio, which is called XOXO Moongirl, and it’s one of my favorite pieces we’ve ever made. It’s just Nicole and live music by Mel Hsu, and is a circus theater examination and processing of Nicole’s history of growing up in a house with domestic violence and physical abuse, and so… Yeah, there’s like a proposition for circus aerials, handstands and dance to be really used in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever used it before in my work, or I’ve seen often inside of that show, so I’m really excited to remount that, and then we’re taking it to Edinburgh in August, so I’ve got to hope that goes well.

Raina: Because you guys were in Mexico too, right?

Ben:Yeah, yeah, actually, yes, so XOXO Moongirl, Nicole was so mad at me when I told her that I told the producers that she would be performing the whole show in Spanish, but she learned the whole show in Spanish and we performed it in Mexico City, and also created an ensemble-devised work with emerging professional circus artists in Mexico as well, while we were there, so, yeah. Hopefully we’ll be going back again in the next Winter, so…

Katy: Awesome.

Ben: Yeah.

Raina: This is a little bit of just a divergent question. This idea of also speaking in circus theater, because I feel like so much of circus is that your body tells the story, and so I’m really curious, like, what… Is this one of the first pieces where, you know, also it’s like a solo show, so, like, what’s that process like building in text and language around the work?

Ben: Yeah, well, for Almanac, our first show, Communitas, didn’t have words in it, and then we started using words pretty much right after that, and I think that is something that’s really interesting, because so much contemporary circus doesn’t use any words, but some does, and… Yeah, so why do we do that? I think… Sometimes I see some contemporary circus shows and it feels like the artists have a really deep relationship with the subject matter that they’re trying to address, or they are addressing through their work, and it just doesn’t come across clearly to an audience because somehow the language isn’t as specific as verbal language can be, and so I think if you want to make work that’s really personal, it’s really about complex ideas that aren’t embodied and don’t start from a somatic place, and I don’t understand why you wouldn’t use words, actually.

I feel like, lots of times, not using words makes things feel distant and feel unclear, and if you feel really strongly about what you have to say, you should say it, and I think that circus is a really great way to express a lot of things, and sometimes it’s just not the best way. So, for example, in XOXO Moongirl, one thing Nicole says is “Last year, my dad hit my mom”, you know, and I think you could see a theatrical dramatization of that, but it’s not the same thing as being able to understand how Nicole feels about that by hearing her relate that to an audience, and so after that detail was clear, the movement that comes afterwards can be grounded and contextualized in a way that makes it reach an audience more, I think, than if that was never there in the first place.

Raina: Yeah. And I think it’s very much an ongoing thing that we have just within the contemporary art sphere, you know, not every artist wants to explain their work in the same way and so a lot of times, and people want the art to speak for itself, but it doesn’t always translate the same way, and sometimes having that language jump can help people get there much easier, or just possibly like more effectively, depending on what it is you’re trying to convey.

Ben: Yeah, absolutely, I think so. I mean, yeah, I think some contemporary dance suffers from this thing, which is that it’s quite academic and quite hard to understand for an uneducated viewer, and so I think one thing about circus is that it’s sort of always been a popular art form, and I think that it should stay that way. I think it should be the sort of thing that anyone can kind of come in and understand, so…

Katy: And contemporary circus rides this line between having a narrative, which sometimes can be a really easy way in for people, but also in terms of traditional American circus, it’s often a display of physical feats, which doesn’t always have a narrative. So I think contemporary circus is pulling from many different genres to create something that is interdisciplinary and has many different ways that an audience member could engage with it, which is cool.

Ben: Absolutely. Yeah. And that’s one reason why, when we do Test Flights at Circadium, it is an interdisciplinary works in progress show, so we have dance, theater, spoken word, music and circus all together, because it’s so true. All of us need to see each other’s work, we need to be inspired by each other.

Katy: Yeah, and likewise, why we include circus in our programming at the Fringe, so it’s all very good. And what are your highbrow and lowbrow inspirations, Ben? We ask everybody on the podcast this question.

Ben:  Oh, my goodness… Yeah, I was prepared for this and I still don’t really have great answers. Okay, so lowbrow inspiration, I think I can answer because I’ve been a little bit obsessed recently with shitposting.

Katy: So for our listeners, explain what that is.

Ben: So, shitposting is basically, like, innocuous sort of trolling of people on social media, like it is trolling, but it’s not like white nationalist trolling, or anything like that, it’s like…

Raina: Great!

Ben: Yeah. I mean, I’m in a group called “Fishtown Shitposting,” and it really is just a place where people can come and make mostly absurdist comments about this other Facebook group (I’m a Fishtown resident) which is called “Fishtown is Awesome, Old, New, Everyone,” and so, you know, where is the steam valve for society when we all have to behave decorously on these neighborhood Facebook groups, and someone’s like “Oh, somebody bumped into my bumper and I’m calling 911”, or whatever, you know, you can go and you can sort of let off the steam by making shitposts. And, yeah, so I’m really… I think shitposting is awesome, and I really am interested in what live-action shitposting would be, and how that could translate to performance, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time in some shitposting spheres.

And then in terms of highbrow, I really love the contemporary circus company Finzi Pasca Company. I’ve seen a handful of their works and the way that they integrate spectacle, storytelling and heart into everything and make it sort of really inspiring. They made a show called Donka: A Letter to Chekhov, which was sort of Daniele Finzi Pasca’s relationship to this, to Chekhov and all of the themes that are in Chekhov’s work, exploded into contemporary circus, and it was really a moving piece, and, yeah, I don’t know… We just performed at a benefit with the PA ballet, and now I definitely want to go and take ballet classes, so I don’t know what that’s about, but that’s another highbrow inspiration right now.

Katy: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe.

Ben: Yeah, thank you so much, it was super fun.

Raina: So, we will be having Ben Grinberg back here on July 1st, so Monday at 7 pm, and we’ll be hosting Test Flights, and we’re excited to see what that lineup of artists will be.

Katy: Yeah, and in the meantime, check out the rest of our Hand-to-Hand Circus programming, join us for our midway the Sunday before on June 30th and performances by a number of other companies. In the meantime, make sure you follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, and to download the FringeArts App.

[Music Outro]

A Look Back at the History of Contemporary Circus

Posted April 19th, 2019
By Lexi DeFilippo, Communications Intern Spring 2019

This summer, FringeArts’ annual circus festival Hand to Hand returns to bring the wonder of contemporary circus to the heart of Philadelphia. In partnership with Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, the first and only diploma-granting circus program in the US, we’re excited to highlight some of the new and innovative performers taking on the circus scene. And in honor of World Circus Day (third Saturday in April, ie. April 20, 2019), we’re taking a look back at the history behind contemporary circus worldwide.

Sometimes known as new circus or nouveau cirque, contemporary circus can be perceived as an enigma. On a structural level, contemporary circus challenges the traditional circus by rejecting the use of animals, acts without any connected through line, and (in most cases) the big top tent as a performance space. Another notable difference from traditional circus is the shift in who is performing contemporary circus acts. Instead of the circus family model where skills are passed down generations to produce family units that travel with a circus and live on the road, contemporary circus productions employ conservatory-trained professionals from all over the world. These conscious steps away from the kitsch of traditional circus have helped push contemporary circus into the spotlight as a more intention-driven form of entertainment that highlights the excitement, finesse, and true artistry of the circus arts.

Contemporary circus began to emerge in the late 1960s-early 70s when groups in Australia, France, United Kingdom, and the West Coast of the United States began to combine the circus arts with more theatrical elements. One of the earliest circus companies credited with incorporating theater into their routines is the Royal Lichtenstein Circus, founded in San Jose by a Jesuit priest in 1971. They were also one of the first groups to use a one-ring format which allowed for the performers to create a more intimate connection with the audience.

This clip from their side-show in 1984 is an example of how the Royal Lichtenstein Circus used theater as a to tell stories through their performances. The choreography acts as a vessel to bring an abstract idea to life while showing off the physicality of the performers.

Another early contemporary circus group, the Pickle Family Circus, formed in 1975 by members of a mime troupe, was one of the first groups to start threading social commentary into their work. The troupe prided itself on being a democratic organization in which all of the performers received equal pay and played an integral part in the operation of the circus as well as the production. The Pickle Family Circus is known for telling a narrative with their productions and using circus acts to move the story along while keeping the audience at the edge of their seats with amazement.

This clip of highlights from their show, Cafe Des Artistes in 1988, shows off the troupe’s multi-faceted performers with the ability to seamlessly blend their circus skills with character work and humor.

As American contemporary circus continued to develop on the West Coast, Britain experienced its own circus revolution. In 1984, Ra-Ra Zoo Circus was founded in London and became recognized for being an integral part of the experimental circus movement overseas. Ra-Ra Zoo incorporated surrealism and satire into their politically-driven productions. The group also challenged the of circus by maintaining an equal number of male and female performers. Nofit State Circus of Wales was founded in 1986 by a group of friends looking for employment during an intense political climate. They developed the Nofit State Circus to act as a political reaction and outlet for creativity and expression. Similar to the American New Circus movement, these British troupes replaced animals with drama, music, and dance as integral parts of their circus productions.

The most well-known contemporary circus, Cirque du Soleil, was founded in Quebec in 1984 by street performers Gilles Ste-Croix and Guy Laliberte. The duo, which led a group of street performers, proposed to create a full-length show for the celebration of 450th anniversary of the discovery of Canada by Jacque Cartier. The show, called Circus of the Sun, was chosen to extend the anniversary celebration through a province-wide tour. Since that first tour, Cirque du Soleil has been creating new shows and touring the world ever since. The company is known for its sleek, high-end productions that use abstraction and ornate visuals that continue to push circus to entirely new heights. Cirque du Soleil is even responsible for Las Vegas on the map as a world-class entertainment hub with over six resident productions currently running on The Strip. This clip, from resident show, The Beatles LOVE at The Mirage, shows how each element of the productions is elaborately designed and constructed to bring the concept to its most heightened reality. The technical capacity of Cirque du Soleil’s state-of-the art venues is also highlighted.

Archaos, founded in France by Pierrot Bidonin in 1986, is known as being an alternative, punk circus. Although the company disbanded in 1991 due to financial problems fairly quickly after its conception, Archaos’ wild, spirited, and crazy circus left a huge impact on contemporary circus. The company brought danger into the circus in a way that was never seen before with the use of motorcycles, chainsaws, and metal deathtraps. This clip provides a taste of the debauchery that helped the rule-breaking Archaos build a cult following.

Newer companies, such as Montreal-based group The Seven Fingers, are continuing the rule-breaking rebellion of contemporary circus in the 2000s with work focused on each performer’s personal characteristics. The performers use their circus abilities to express personal stories and emotions, similar to the way modern dance embodies the human experience. Unlike the dreamworld of companies like Cirque du Soleil, The Seven Fingers create work from a realistic lens and highlights a genuine human experience. This teaser clip from the show, RÉVERSIBLE, is an example of contemporary circus with a specific kind of “stripped down” stylistic aesthetic.

These are just a few of the contemporary circus companies that helped save the legacy of the circus arts by adapting to economic, cultural, and artistic shifts in order to produce a more dynamic and forward-looking form of circus. Contemporary circus has now become a recognized and celebrated art form around the world and is accessible in ways traditional circus never was. Although some of the biggest circus companies in the world are no longer around, circus is very much alive and well thanks to contemporary circus.

At FringeArts, Hand to Hand kicks off with a showcase from Circadium’s first year students  entitled, Circadium Springboard, on May 25. The performance will showcase works by these  students who have completed the first of three years of intensive interdisciplinary study.

Swiss duo Compagnia Baccalà acts as the centerpiece of this year’s festival lineup and is bringing its world-renowned show, Pss Pss, to the FringeArts stage this June. The production, inspired by the theatrical world of Charlie Chaplin and other silent film stars, incorporates the key components of contemporary circus by using circus skills, abstraction, and humor to dazzle audiences of all ages. The pas de deux provides the perfect display of the unbelievable physicality and enchanting artistry behind the success of the New Circus movement.

There will also be an opportunity to try out popular contemporary circus skills with Philadelphia School of Circus Arts at Circus Midway on June 30. Juggling, plate spinning, and tight wire are just a few of the skills you can learn from this fun day of outdoor workshops. Then come see the skills in action during Test Flights, a circus edition of our works-in-progress series, on Monday, July 1.

Experience the tantalizing magic of contemporary circus at Hand to Hand June 28–July 1 here at FringeArts.

Getting In A Tangle: Meredith Rosenthal Goes In the Forest

Posted September 7th, 2018

A Fringe Festival favorite since 2011, Tangle Movement Arts is a contemporary circus arts company whose performances mix traditional circus like trapeze and acrobatics with dance, theater, and live music to tell multidimensional stories. Tangle’s work reflects individuals of diverse identities, with an emphasis on queer and female experiences, and is devised collaboratively by its all-female ensemble.

Meredith Rosenthal

FringeArts spoke to Meredith Rosenthal, a member of this ensemble, about Tangles new work In the Forest—an immersive world of circus-theater that surrounds the audience with a 360-degree display of aerial dance, live music, giant yarn sculptures, and circus magic. The show comes to the 2018 Fringe Festival September 12-15, at the Sanctuary at the Rotunda in West Philly..

FringeArts: How did you become involved with Tangle?

Meredith Rosenthal: About five years ago, Lauren Rile Smith discovered me at a student showcase at Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. My first ever performance! She asked me to be a guest artist for a TinyCircus show, one of Tangle’s pop-up circus events.

FringeArts: What do you like about the company?

Meredith Rosenthal: Tangle feels almost more like a community than a company. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging. We try to make accessible circus for the masses, whether it’s by outdoor performances or our energetic narrative shows.

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2018 Festival Spotlight: Circus Shows

Posted August 23rd, 2018

Contemporary circus is a growing genre in the performing art world, especially here in Philadelphia, and this year, Fringe artists are exploring its potential. Don’t miss these shows that push movement to new extremes!

Circadium Presents: Autopilot / Galactic Garden Party
Circadium
Double bill: Autopilot is a circus-based examination of how life’s instructions are given, taught, or learned, and how we navigate life with and without those instructions. Galactic Garden Party utilizes juggling, dance, scientific lectures, and theater to show the wonders of Earth, and what lies beyond the atmosphere in the cosmos.
More info and tickets here

Dead Flowers Circus Sideshow
Dead Flowers Circus Sideshow
Avant-garde performance ensemble Dead Flowers Circus Sideshow presents a veritable filth olympics. Mind and gender-bending spectacle, entertainment guaranteed. You may witness: A demonic clown host! Omnisexual burlesque! Heavy metal standup! Extreme acts of Sadomasochism! An authentic Arabian dance! Some Rock & Roll! Audience participation is not required, but volunteers have a lot of fun. No one bleeds but the performers.
More info and tickets here

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Nicole Burgio Shoots For The Moon in Almanac’s xoxo moongirl

Posted June 25th, 2018

The newest show from Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, xoxo moongirl, comes this Tuesday, June 26 to Christ Church Neighborhood House. Fringe favorite Almanac is the company behind Exile 2588 (2016) and Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes (2017), and will appear again in the 2018 Festival with Jeanne/Jean/John/Jawn, a circus extravaganza.

Nicole Burgio

Almanac’s current show xoxo moongirl is an autobiographical solo performance by company member Nicole Burgio, who tells the story of her childhood, which was plagued by domestic violence and abuse. Using many forms of performance art, Burgio confronts her past and, in it, finds hope and resilience.

I think often times when bad or violent things are portrayed in media and popular culture, they are either communicated about in a very clinical way so that the facts are all 100% accurate, or they can be very graphic,” director Ben Grinberg tells FringeArts, discussing the timeliness of the show amid the #MeToo era. “Using dance, circus, and theater, we can get at all of the feelings and sensations and acts of processing that are messy and not clear cut.”

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2017 Festival Spotlight: Family Friendly Fare, Part 2

Posted August 27th, 2017

Just because it’s at the Fringe doesn’t mean you have to leave the kids at home. Check out some of the Festival’s productions appropriate for all ages. Bring the whole family! Check out Part 1 here.

 

A Period of Animate Existence @ Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts 
Pig Iron Theatre Company

Children, elders, and machines contemplate the future in a time of dire predictions and rapid technological change in this work of symphonic theater. How do we contemplate the future in such a perilous time, an era called the “Sixth Extinction,” when up to 50 percent of all living species might die off? An inspired, large-scale melding of music, design, and theater, A Period of Animate Existence investigates the intense, unnamable emotions that arise in a time of extinction. More info and tickets here.

 

Photo by Michael Bach.

Lost in the Woods @ German Society of Pennsylvania
A Moment for Music

Lost in the Woods is the journey of two starving children who must find their way in a world that threatens to both empower and devour them. This family-friendly romp through Hansel and Gretel’s forest is a multimedia adventure featuring classical, jazz, and pop singing, lip-sync, and dance. More tickets and info here.

 

Photo by Michael Ermilio.

 

Life Lines @ Christ Church Neighborhood House 
Tangle Movement Arts

Seven women collide and are changed forever. In this dynamic circus-theater show, strangers meet their match, empty rooms listen in, and women find their power in flight. Tangle’s acrobats climb trapezes and aerial silks as they face sudden changes, spark chain reactions, and test the hidden threads that bind us.

 

Worktable @ BOK
Kate McIntosh

We provide the hammer, you do the rest. Worktable is a live installation that takes place in a series of rooms, which visitors engage with one at a time. Having signed up beforehand for a specific time slot, you enter and can stay as long as you like. Once inside there are instructions, equipment, and safety goggles so you can get to work—it’s up to you to decide how things come apart, and how they fall back together. More info and tickets here.

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Pretty brain melty: Interview with Almanac Dance Circus Theatre

Posted May 1st, 2017

This Mexican Week, FringeArts presents two one-night-only shows by Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, An Homage to Whatshername and A Door in the Desert.  These shows, made in collaboration with Mexican choreographer and performer Emmanuel Becerra, have been nurtured over the last six months with intensive, long rehearsals, deep conversations about the things that divide us, and Almanac’s signature compassion.  Artistic director Ben Grinberg, Emmanuel Becerra, and company members Evelyn Langley and Joseph Ahmed were kind enough to talk through their process, and how Fronteras (the umbrella title for both works) came to be.

FringeArts: How did the title FRONTERAS come about? And then how did the two titles—A Door in the Desert and An Homage to Whatshername?

Ben Grinberg: Fronteras is the Spanish word for “borders.” My collaborative relationship with Emmanuel Becerra has always been about sharing our different cultures, and, in a way, asking questions about why cultural perceptions and stereotypes exhibit themselves in the ways that they do. When we started talking about the project we would work on together, it was at the height of the presidential election season, and of course—and unfortunately—our writing grants to bring a Mexican artist to the United States to collaborate began to feel like a political statement. Emmanuel took this idea and started to get very interested in the idea of boundaries and borders, both politically as it pertained to his experience of working in the United States, and in investigating the borders and boundaries that exist between and within people. When we traveled to Mexico City this summer, Emmanuel shared this research with us in the form of a series of collaborative workshops, which culminated in a site-specific performance in a four story building. When the audience arrived, we asked them to write a border that they struggle with internally on a piece of paper. We took all of these pieces of paper and put them in a bag, and as the bag got passed between performers in various parts of the house, the papers took on a votive significance.

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FEASTIVAL is almost here

Posted September 24th, 2016

The 2016 Fringe Festival is approaching its end, and while it’s tragic that our lives can’t always feature such a bevy of thrilling and thought-provoking performance, I’m sure everyone is ready to return to their normal routines that include things like sleep. But before you settle back into that same old, there’s still a bit of celebratory fun to be had here at FringeArts. The 2016 Audi FEASTIVAL, FringeArts’ annual fundraiser, is coming to the waterfront Thursday, September 29 and bringing some of Philadelphia’s best restaurants and performers in tow.

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(photo by Neal Santos)

For the first time in FEASTIVAL history, co-host Michael Solomonov (Zahav, Abe Fisher, Federal Donuts) will curate a live gastronomic performance, taking advantage of the event’s Fringe Fire Pit and PECO Ice Station to prepare some divine dishes that will be served directly to guests. Chefs Solomonov, Nick Macri (La Divisa Meats), and Brad Spence (representing Alla Spina and the Vetri Family of restaurants) will heat things up, manning two rotisseries and a grill, while Chefs Greg Vernick (Vernick Food + Drink) and Peter Serpico (Serpico) will keep it cool over at the ice station.

Food won’t be the only thing there to grab your attention though. After all, this is FringeArts. Circadium, the nation’s only school of contemporary circus, will astound you throughout the evening with stilt walkers, jugglers, contortionists, and aerialists providing quite the spectacle. Returning for their second FEASTIVAL, FringeArts favorites Red 40 & The Last Groovement will be bringing their raucous clown funk party back to their old stomping grounds with an LED video stage provided by Tait Towers. Inside FringeArts at the Audi Artist Lounge muralist Juan Dimida will live paint a 2017 Audi A4 over the course of the evening, utilizing a mix of traditional painting styles and cutting-edge digital art to achieve his innovative vision. Meanwhile in the lounge, Brian Sanders’ JUNK, a consistent Festival favorite, will be showcasing their wildly imaginative and daring brand of physical theater.

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A Matador, Luchadores, and a Godless Bull

Posted September 8th, 2016
matador-body-1

Forrest Shamlian and Justine Parks (photo by Michael Ermilio)

To its many critics, bullfighting is viewed as cruel and inhumane blood sport, but those who practice and promote it hardly see it as a sport at all. To them it is a highly ritualized cultural event, a gracefully choreographed dance, a deadly serious and death-defying art in the most literal sense. Significant as it may be to Hispanic culture however, the practice’s prevalence has steadily declined in recent years. It’s been banned in parts of Europe and Latin America, including three Mexican states: Sonora, Guerrero, and Coahuila. It seems as though in this day and age our desire to witness someone taking their life in their hands for a bout with a dangerous yet ultimately innocent animal has dwindled. But what would happen if the bull was complicit in the act, eager to entertain?

This weekend Ethos Physical Theatre Company will present their inaugural show, Matador, as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. Written by and featuring Ethos co-founder and trapeze artist Justine Parks and drawing inspiration from both bullfighting and the Mexican freestyle wrestling form lucha libre, it explores the relationship between a fearsome bullfighter and his godless bull, a tragic love story set in a fairy tale version of Mexico.

“The entire show is designed to celebrate a mash-up of traditional and pop culture in Mexico,” Parks tells me. “The matador and the godless bull agree not to kill one another so long as they give each other a good and fair fight each night, thus making their bullfights more of a ‘show’ than an actual fight to the death. We thought each of them being luchadores was a great way to illustrate that their goal in fighting one another is rooted in entertainment.”

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Festival MVP Brett Mapp’s 2016 Schedule

Posted September 7th, 2016

Opening night of the Festival is tomorrow, can you believe it? It will no doubt be an incredible couple weeks of inspired performances, but if you’re like me you haven’t quite locked down your festival schedule yet. I mean, who has times for puzzles these days? It might seem overwhelming to fit all these amazing shows into just little more than two weeks, but thankfully there’s hope. Fringe Festival veteran, Old City District director of operations, general man about town, and self-described “hardcore Fringer” Brett Mapp has been kind enough to share his 2016 Fringe Festival schedule with us. If you’re looking for some guidance on what to see and how to fit it all together, it can’t hurt to start here.

the chairs

Tomas Dura, Bob Schmidt, and Tina Brock in Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs (photo by Johanna Austin @ AustinArt.org)

9/7
Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs @ 7:30pm

9/8
CITIZEN @ 7pm

9/9
Exile 2588 @ 7pm
Feed @ 8:30pm
Anithero @ 10pm

9/10
Raphstravaganza The Kinetic Experience @ 12pm
Levée des conflits @ 8pm

who would be king

Rebecca Lehrhoff, Rachel Wiese, Jesse Garlick, and Veronica Barron in Who Would Be King (photo by Chris McIntosh)

9/11
Who Would Be King @ 2pm
They’ll Be Callin Us Witches @ 4:30pm
Notes of a Native Song @ 8pm

9/12
The Sincerity Project @ 7pm

9/13
Gala @ 8pm

9/14
I Fucking Dare You @ 8:30pm

9/15
Animal Farm to Table @ 6pm
Wroughtland @ 9pm

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Fringe at 20 Profile: Lauren Rile Smith

Posted September 6th, 2016
Lauren Rile Smith headshot

Lauren Rile Smith (photo by Karen Rile)

Name: Lauren Rile Smith

Type of Artist: Trapeze artist and circus-theater producer

Company: Tangle Movement Arts

List of Fringe shows I’ve participated in:
Ampersand, Tangle Movement Arts, 2011 – Producer/Performer
You Don’t Say, Tangle Movement Arts, 2012 – Producer/Performer
Break/Drift/Resist, Tangle Movement Arts, 2013 – Producer/Performer
Loop, Tangle Movement Arts, 2014 – Producer/Performer
The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct, Tangle Movement Arts, 2015 – Producer/Performer

Fringe show I’m participating in for 2016: I’m producing and performing in Tangle’s 2016 show, Surface Tension, at Neighborhood House Sept. 14-17. We use trapeze and aerial silks to get under the skin of a Tinder date turned rocky relationship, an advice columnist who could use a taste of her own medicine, and a well-mannered office worker who snaps under pressure. It’s a circus-theater exploration of how much we see past the surface of other people—how much can you really know someone—at home, in the office, 20 feet in the air?

Tangle Movement Arts at FringeArts 4

Smith and Sal Nicolazzo (photo by Michael Ermilio)

First Fringe I attended: The first Fringe show I saw was 2008’s The Destruction of the City, and Also an Itinerary for Visitors, a show that was collaboratively devised by the theater ensemble Ad Hoc, using found text and live music and puppetry to evoke the ruins of Pompeii. I went to the performance because I had friends in the company, but also because I was curious about this multidisciplinary ensemble-generated devised-theater thing– what was it like? I was a writer and editorial assistant, just beginning the slow pivot in my life that eventually transformed me into a trapeze artist and ensemble-based circus-theater producer. True to its name, Ad Hoc only ever produced that one show, but the taste of freedom and magic potential I got from that Fringe show has inspired me ever since.

First show I produced/created at the Fringe: The Fringe Festival was the platform that launched my circus-theater company, Tangle Movement Arts, in 2011. On fire about the radical potential of circus performance, I wanted to make a feminist circus-theater show that mixed techniques from aerial acrobatics, dance, theater, and queer storytelling. I gathered a group of likeminded troublemakers and we worked obsessively for most of a year to create Ampersand. I had never produced a show before, but had this deep sense that it was possible. Sometimes I felt aware that I was re-inventing the wheel over and over, but that almost made me proud—say what you like, this one’s MY wheel!

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2016 Fringe Festival Spotlight: Circus arts and acrobatic theater

Posted September 6th, 2016

Philadelphia has become a hub for forward-thinking and stunning works of circus art and physical theater. Check out some of the 2016 Festival’s offerings of performances that push movement to new and exciting extremes!

RAPHSTRAVAGANZA-THE-KINETIC-EXPERIENCE-232x300

 

Raphstravaganza The Kinetic Experience @ Philadelphia City Hall Courtyard Raphael Xavier

Leading hip-hop artist and 2013 Pew Fellow Raphael Xavier will bring together masterful street performers, extreme BMX riders, acrobatic contortionists, and live music for Raphstravaganza: The Kinetic Experience, a contemporary circus-style performance in City Hall’s courtyard. Featuring jazz composer Bobby Zankel. More info and tickets here.

 

exile body

Mark Wong, Nick Gillette, Ben Grinberg, Lauren Johns, and Nicole Burgio (photo by Kate Raines)

Exile 2588 @ Painted Bride Art Center
Almanac Dance Circus Theater

Exile 2588 is an acrobatic folk-music space epic adaptation of the story of Io set 572 years in to the future. Smashing together the genre of space epic with the sweet strains of American folk music, Almanac’s physical vocabulary swells to include break dance, static trapeze, and ever more innovative ensemble acrobatics, asking timeless questions about mortality and how much control we have over our bodies. Almanac’s signature style of physical storytelling, dance, and circus will be accompanied by an original song cycle by Chickabiddy (Aaron Cromie and Emily Schuman). The piece is outside eyed by Pig Iron Theatre Company’s Dan Rothenberg. More info and tickets here.

surface tension

Lee Thompson and Lauren Rile Smith (photo by Michael Ermilio)

 

Surface Tension @ Christ Church Neighborhood House
Tangle Movement Arts

How far can you see beneath the surface? Tangle’s acrobats explore life’s hidden currents and push through the forces that pull us together. Merging circus arts with theater, dance, and innovative storytelling, Surface Tension uses trapeze and aerial silks to dive into a world of fixed points and sudden changes. More info and tickets here.

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Fringe Festival 2016 Spotlight: Suitable for All Ages

Posted August 30th, 2016

Just because it’s at the Fringe doesn’t mean you have to leave the kids at home. Check out some of the Festival’s productions appropriate for all ages. Bring the whole family!

spherus

(photo by Colleen Joy)

 

Spherus @ Philadelphia School of Circus Arts
Greg Kennedy – Innovative Juggler

Updated for this year’s Fringe, Spherus: a trio-show featuring international juggling champion Greg Kennedy, complemented by aerial dancers, Rachel Lancaster & Christine Morano. In collaboration with video-projection artist Jeff Bethea, multimedia effects enhance venue installation, juggling sculptures & acrobatics. More info and tickets here.

clothing

Ready for Night by Linda Dubin Garfield

 

 

Clothing: Stories from the Closet @ The Book Trader
Linda Dubin Garfield / Susan DiPronio

Clothing: it’s what you chose to wear, how you adorn yourself; it shows who you are. It’s what drapes the windows of your soul; clothing defines or hides you. Share your story—write it, create it, tell about it. Art materials provided at on-going workshops. Proceeds benefit victims of human trafficking. More info and tickets here.

 

exile

Mark Wong, Nicole Burgio, Ben Grinberg, Lauren Johns, Nick Gillette (photo by Kate Raines)

Exile 2588 @ Painted Bride Art Center
Almanac Dance Circus Theatre

Exile 2588 is an acrobatic folk-music space epic adaptation of the story of Io set 572 years in to the future. Smashing together the genre of space epic with the sweet strains of American folk music, Almanac’s physical vocabulary swells to include break dance, static trapeze, and ever more innovative ensemble acrobatics, asking timeless questions about mortality and how much control we have over our bodies. Almanac’s signature style of physical storytelling, dance, and circus will be accompanied by an original song cycle by Chickabiddy (Aaron Cromie and Emily Schuman). The piece is outside eyed by Pig Iron Theatre Company’s Dan Rothenberg. [Disclaimer: This production does deal with serious themes of mortality and death.] More info and tickets here.

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With Retroact, Tangle Remixes Its Repertoire

Posted March 14th, 2016

Nostalgia is big business. It sells ad space during blocks of reruns on late-night television. It pushes drinks on club theme nights where people only want to dance to The Cure, Joy Division or Bauhaus. It’s probably mentioned multiple times in half the job descriptions at Buzzfeed. These days it’s easy to get cynical about nostalgia’s all-pervasive influence. It’s a tool that’s easily exploited, turning it from something pleasurable and personal to a hollow cash in on our shared recollections. But then there are those much welcome instances that remind you looking back can be a means of celebration, of reaffirming identity, of sharing something that remains relevant with those who missed it the first time around. Tangle Movement Arts, Philadelphia’s all-female circus arts theater company, is just about due for some of this nostalgia and this weekend they will have it. Their latest show RetroAct, a circus-theater remix of the most exciting moments from their oeuvre of aerial dance theater, comes to Christ Church Neighborhood House from March 17–19 and should not be missed.

Tangle - RetroAct 2

Photo by Michael Ermilio

Since 2011 Tangle and its ten woman company of artists and collaborators has brought multidisciplinary, multidimensional storytelling with an emphasis on queer and female experience to spaces high above any other stage in the city. Mixing traditional circus arts like trapeze and acrobatics with elements of dance, theater, and live music, Tangle tells their stories in a manner few could ever dream of imitating. “We believe that circus arts can be a powerful tool for challenging assumptions about what bodies should look like and what they can do – from floating upside-down, to subverting gender roles,” poet and performer Lauren Rile Smith, Tangle’s founder, recently told FringeArts. “Circus arts is a context in which women build muscle, men move gracefully, partners lift each other into the air, and everybody can defy gravity.”

Taking its name from the possibilities that arise when things get complicated, Tangle has produced ten full length shows, five of which enjoyed successful runs as part of the last five Fringe Festivals, and numerous pop-up projects along the way. Each highlights women’s strength and queer stories while rendering complex, oft-unspoken ideas into remarkable physical feats. The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct, which premiered at the 2015 Fringe Festival, followed six longtime housemates whose lives are quietly upturned following the arrival of a new neighbor. You Don’t Say took a dinner party setting and subverted the expected smatterings of small talk and flirtation by translating them into acrobatic explorations. Timelines looked to the past, present, and future to examine notions of time and the female body through a series of pieces that included a daydreaming 1950s office secretary, vaudevillians, and the evolution of life on earth.

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So Much To Do This Weekend!

Posted May 27th, 2014

What’s come to our attention:

27-Jim-1024x682

27, New Paradise Laboratories

Remember New Paradise Laboratories’ hit performance 27 in the 2012 Fringe Festival? Whether you missed it the first time or are eager for more, 27 returns Thursday, May 29th through Saturday, May 31st at the Painted Bride Arts Center, 230 Vine Street. Members of the “27 Club” of talented musicians who passed away at the age of 27—Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Jimi Hendrix—explore purgatory and deal with a new arrival to their group. Questions of musical genius, mortality, and the afterlife coalesce in this performance pulsing with music composed by guitar prodigy Alec MacLaughlin. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, and can be purchased online.

unnamed

Kate Aid of Tangle Movement Arts. Photo by Michael Ermilio.

Looking for some circus arts this weekend? The Porch at 30th Street Station has been showcasing a series of dance and physical theater performances this spring and summer. On Saturday, May 31st at 2pm and 4pm, the Porch will come alive with acrobats and aerial dance in Tangle Movement Arts’ free performance of their new and original work Passages. The urban circus-theater will explore daily life in urban Philadelphia and play with the idea of 30th Street Station as a public center for Philadelphia. The rain date is Saturday, June 8th. More information can be found at: www.tangle-arts.com

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Performers in CATCH Takes Philly

After you leave 30th Street Station, head over to The Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N American Street at 8pm on Saturday, May 31st, for the explosion of performance events that is CATCH Takes Philly. Usually confined to Brooklyn, this weekend CATCH joins Philadelphia’s Thirdbird for a night of dance, theater, video, performance, and beer. CATCH Takes Philly will feature Tei Blow, Cara Francis, Meg Foley, Groundswell Theater Company, Cynthia Hopkins, Jaamil Kosoko, No Face Performance Group, Brain Osborne, Matt Romein, and Saúl Ulerio. Tickets are $15 at the door, beer included.

Round off your weekend by attending the culmination of a year of research into voice and movement improvisation by the Leah Stein Dance Company on Sunday, June 1st, at 5pm. The renowned composer Pauline Oliveros developed the deep listening method of incorporating environmental sounds into musical performance, and has been working with the Leah Stein Dance Company to explore the relationship between deep listening and movement. Oliveros, Stein, seven dancers, and seven singers will conduct a free performance, panel discussion, and opportunity for audience participation at The Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, this Sunday. More information can be found at: www.leahsteindanceco.org.

Leah Stein Dance Company conducing research with Pauline Oliveros.

Leah Stein Dance Company conducing research with Pauline Oliveros

–Miriam Hwang-Carlos

Montreal’s FAQ Circus Collective is Coming to Germantown and Now You Know

Posted August 8th, 2013

IMG_0962 - CopieThe circus arts are alive and well and Frequently Asked Questions Circus, an American contemporary circus collective based in Montreal, is transporting their exhilarating blend of modern and traditional techniques to Philadelphia this weekend to make sure you’re in the know. A consortium of friends, classmates, and co-workers, each member uplifts their extraordinarily unique physical abilities–acrobatics, aerials, juggling, clowning–as a medium for deeply personal storytelling. Aiming to stretch, bend, and break the conventions of what goes on under the big top, FAQ Circus delves into every avenue of performative spectacle  from contortionist tricks to trapeze work to Chinese hoops to dabbling with cucumbers. Presented by the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (5900A Greene Street), the company enlightens Philadelphia audiences to the exciting, transformative nature of circus with their debut production, Now You Know, showing this Friday at 7:30pm and Saturday 2:30pm and 7:30pm. FringeArts had a chat with co-creator/manager Lindsay Culbert-Olds to get her perspective on circus arts, the mission of FAQ Circus, and what’s in store for the show.

FringeArts:  How did this all get started?

Lindsay Culbert-Olds: FAQ started as a group of all American circus performers who were raised in American youth circus programs and ended up moving to Montreal for a higher level of circus arts that was there that we hadn’t found in the US. We all had a dream of performing in the US, but because of the lack of circus culture we all ended up in Montreal. As FAQ, we want to come back to help a larger circus culture grow in the US.

FringeArts: Why call yourselves Frequently Asked Questions Circus? 

Lindsay Culbert-Olds: We thought for a long time about what to call ourselves, and then we all settled on Frequently Asked Questions because when people find out we do circus, there are always these frequently asked questions . . . “Oh, you’re in the circus, what is that like? Are there lions? Is there a tightrope?” Frequently Asked Questions reflects the goals of the company. We want to answers those questions, and we answer them by the way perform.

FringeArts: What was the creation process like, reconciling with traditional and contemporary modes? What can we expect the result to be at the show?

Lindsay Culbert-Olds: We all grew up in the traditional circus style and want to stay faithful to those things we love–there is trapeze, tightwire aerials, acrobatics, and there are clowns. What we found in Montreal was all types of dance-based circus, theater-based circus. We want to do something that’s not just for tricks, but still have that joyful entertainment value. We worked together all year experimenting. In the show, individual members will each have a number. What we want to do is portray ourselves and our stories with circus arts. Although we don’t have a director, we are a group of people working together, and we want people to see cohesiveness, how much we love circus, and just how proud we are of what we do.

Thanks Lindsay, excited for the show!

FAQPhilly2

Buy your tickets!

Philadelphia School of Circus Arts

5900A Greene Street

Shows Friday, 8/9/13 at 7:30pm and Saturday 8/10/13 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm
Check out the video below of FAQ doing their thing!

-Maya Beale

This is 7 Fingers Performing at the Comcast Center Plaza

Posted September 21st, 2012

Music by the Mountain Goats, who are also awesome. Sadly, they’re not performing, but you can still catch Sequence 8 tonight and Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:00 pm. At the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street, Center City. $20-$45 adults, $9-$23.50.

Preview: “Sequence 8”

Posted September 18th, 2012

Tonight! Sequence 8 from 7 Fingers opens at the Merriam! Will it amaze? Watch the preview, and you decide.

Sequence 8 runs tonight, and September 20 through 23 at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street, Center City. Times vary; $20-$45 adult tix, $9-23.50 for the kids, because like Wu-Tang, 7 Fingers is for the children. Well, at least OK for children.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

News About Us!

Posted August 27th, 2012

>>>6ABC loves the arts that we do; story featuring El Jefe Nick Stuccio above, and plugs for Sequence 8, Bang, and Le Grand Continental.

>>>The Inquirer plugs Barbie Blended: A Pop Rockin’ Musical, which gets a head start on the 2012 Philly Fringe with early shows this weekend.

>>>The Daily News, Technically Philly, and Newsworks all have Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Open Air on the brain.

>>>Alum news, via Playbill: Elephant Room, which premiered at the 2011 Live Arts Festival, goes Hollywood at the Kirk Douglas Theater.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Ooh La La: “Sequence 8” Premieres in Lyon, France

Posted August 10th, 2012

Sequence 8 from 7 Fingers, with six geese-a-laying, had its world premiere in Lyon recently. But if you missed it, buy some of Lyon’s especially delicious sausage and sit tight; it’ll be at the 2012 Live Arts Festival soon. Here’s a peek:

Sequence 8 runs September 18 and 20 through 23 at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street, Avenue of the Arts. Times vary; $20 to $55.

–Nicholas Gilewicz