Imagine eight women swinging from ropes, flying from silk to silk, weaving in and out, suspending in midair, then spiraling back down, defying gravity and captivating you with the sheer power of their movement. Together these women support each other, and sometimes they even leave a woman hanging. Now imagine this visual phenomenon set with a story focused on the simple but difficult choice of whether to stay with the comfort of community, or to let go and set down separate path.
Lauren Rile Smith ‘08, created this unique acrobatics-based group in 2011. Called “Tangle Movement Arts,” the group focuses on combining dance, theater, live music, and aerial acrobatics to create one spectacular, full-length circus show. Smith’s group is based in West Philadelphia, and has been a long-time favorite at Philadelphia’s Fringe Arts Festival.
Unlike many other circus groups, Tangle combines a traditional circus style with newer, more innovative aspects of performance to allow for a new kind of experience and storytelling. While collaborating to create the shows, the group focuses on diversity, ranges of different body types, gender presentations, and the queer and female experiences.
During her time at Swarthmore, Smith double majored in Philosophy and English. Soon after graduating though, Smith realized that her true calling and passion was in the circus arts. Smith was drawn to the circus “for its mix of visual spectacle and storytelling.” Since founding the group, she has created her shows in a very collaborative way. She works with the feminist aerial group to create these kinetic masterpieces, which reflect on womanhood and community.
Smith is not only the founder of Tangle, but also a dancer in the company. Her experience performing alongside her fellow dancers has allowed her to form a stronger and special kind of bond.
“From my perspective, all our choreography is rooted in a deep trust for one another. This trust is both in physical terms — I trust you to hold me up with just one hand, fifteen feet in the air! — but also the kind of interpersonal trust that allows us to create intimate stories about all different sorts of relationships between strong women: friends, antagonists, lovers, allies,” said Smith.
“Loop,” Smith’s newest aerial creation, starts out with a single woman who accidentally runs into a group of strangers who change her life in unexpected ways. Instead of continuing on in her adventurous path, she is confronted with new questions about community and relationships. Although she hadn’t planned on it, she flies, flirts and forms tight bonds with these strangers and realizes that her life is better with them.
Meanwhile, the story of a torn trio emerges. The close-knit group begins to unweave as one of the members decides that she can no longer live her life in synchronization with the other two. Instead she decides to break free, changing the three lives forever. Between the two stories, the audience witnesses how relationships bend and change as lives continue to transform.
The story gracefully manifests itself through the women’s ability to knot and unknot themselves from the entanglement of ropes and swings. According to The New York Times, “Tangle Movement Arts turns a series of hanging loops into a stand-in for examining precarious relationships.”
Swarthmore alumni have continued to go out into Philadelphia and beyond to share their unique experiences and ideas with the world. Smith is no exception. By creating “Loop,” she was able to mix her love of acrobatics and her study of human connection into a visually entertaining and thought provoking piece of work. Any Swarthmore student who takes interest in the dynamics of complex relationships or the art of trapeze and acrobatics would find “Loop” an interesting and worthwhile spectacle.
“Loop” premiers on September 18 at 8 p.m. at the Philadelphia Soundstage, and has following performances on September 19 at 8 p.m., and September 20 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tickets are available at http://www.tangle-arts.com for $15 to $20 with additional discounts for students, seniors, artists and groups.