“I discovered a radical potential in circus arts to challenge our assumptions about relationships, gender, and what bodies can do.”
Smith and Sarah Nicolazzo rehearsing Invert! at The Sanctuary at the Rotunda. Photo by Michael Ermilio.
Tangle Movement Arts has been creating a distinctive brand of circus-dance-theater for the past few years now, and from May 16 to 18, they will be taking over The Sanctuary at the Rotunda with their new show Invert! (TICKETS!) We caught up with Tangle’s founder Lauren Rile Smith to learn about the show, the company, the burgeoning circus scene, and what it takes to put a show like Invert! together
FringeArts: How did Tangle Movement Arts come about?
Lauren: I formed Tangle in 2010 with the goal of making circus-dance-theater with feminist values. I discovered a radical potential in circus arts to challenge our assumptions about relationships, gender, and what bodies can do. Aerial dance is a context in which women can build muscle, men can move gracefully, and everybody can defy gravity. This inspired me to found Tangle—I wanted to make collaborative performance in that radical spirit!
So I gathered a group of seven collaborators with similar visions to embark on the project of making our very first show for the 2011 Philly Fringe. We collaboratively devised Ampersand, which was a sold-out hit, and since then we’ve continued to make aerial dance theater. Our work includes both full-length shows created by company members, and our popular, free outdoor showcase series, tinycircus. We’ve been so honored by the reception we’ve gotten—there’s been an explosion of interest in circus arts in the past few years, and Tangle’s interdisciplinary mix of circus, dance, theater, and live music has connected us to diverse communities in a way that fuels us.
FringeArts: Tell us about the new show Invert!
Smith and Sarah Nicolazzo still rehearsing Invert! at the Rotunda. Photo by Michael Ermilio.
Lauren: Invert! is an evening of all-new aerial dance theater. With a nod to queer history, “invert” being a 19th-century term for gender nonconformists, as well as the basic image of circus arts—a body upside-down, Invert! aims to upend viewer expectations. Using trapeze, aerial hoop and rope, and acrobatic partner balancing, Invert! features vertical flirtation, glittery sequins, eerie reflections of inner strife, a spoken-word monologue performed on trapeze, a celebration of campy drag traditions, and a tribute to Rosie the Riveter complete with on-stage power tools.
We have found that in mainstream storytelling, relationships between women are often erased or turned into stereotypes. Invert! counters that by projecting intimate and dynamic relationships between women who perform alongside each other and literally lift each other’s bodies. The dynamic aerial and partner acrobatics of Invert! will be interspersed with tango solos by Juilliard violinist Caeli Smith—we’re excited to bring this show to the majestic and rarely seen Sanctuary at the Rotunda.
FringeArts: How do you determine what pieces fit into a Tangle show?
Lauren: All of Tangle’s work is collaboratively devised by the members of our company, through a long-term cooperative effort. Without a central director or choreographer, Tangle makes creative decisions as a group, sharing input on all aspects of the rehearsal and performance process. Our creative process is based in group and solo improvisation, a continual dynamic of group feedback, and planning sessions in which we develop the structure, written and musical accompaniments, and conceptual framework behind a show. In planning for Invert!, we brought together inspirations as diverse as female WWII engineers, Greek statuary, the tango music of Astor Piazzolla, and a Marilyn Hacker poem. (more…)