Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
We made our way to our seats, two lawn chairs left untouched on the far right. The brightness of the stage starkly contrasted the darkness of the room. The set, enclosed by three vanilla white walls, was divided into two houses. On the right end sat a household of six women, complete with a cream colored sofa, trapeze, and aerial silk, all the fashions one might find in any ordinary household. On the left rested a home for one with a descending aerial ring and trapeze. The simplicity of the design created a clear sense of direction, and the hues displayed on the walls throughout the show complemented the show’s trajectory.
Looking around, the room housed a contemporary ambiance, a collective murmuring by couples and college students. Then the spotlights dim; the white of the walls fades into a blend of hues, and the show begins.
A voice, polite and assertive, resonates through the speakers:
The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct.
Make yourself at home.
The early bird catches the worm.
Many hands make light work.
Adages like these were recited while we pondered how they tied into the title.
“The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct.”
The scene transitions, the music softens and dies down. A woman sits on the couch, reading a book entitled Focus, and she earnestly sets out to do what the book’s title suggests. One of her housemates curiously wanders in, takes a seat and edges her nose into Focus. The first reacts evasively, shifting her seating position to suggest to her housemate that she should stop bothering her. One at a time, the rest of the household of six joins in. It becomes impossible for the first woman to focus on Focus. Yet, the others do not recognize their imposition.
The set comprised of two adjacent houses, and it seemed like these two households were in there own little little universes. The acrobats started to perform daily chores: washing the dishes, throwing away trash, folding clothes, etc. and a jazzy soundtrack added to the basic vibe. The interaction among the acrobats felt as if they were bound by distinct rules about the ways they should act, how they should recycle, how they should do laundry. At one point, a character isn’t receiving help from her new live-in girlfriend, so she grits her teeth and climbs a rope with a broom between her toes to sweep the ceiling all by herself.
While it was captivating to watch them perform such difficult acrobatic feats, we could feel the deeper undertone driving the performance: that human social behavior is structured by rules and expectations that are sometimes oppressive, sometimes empowering, sometimes contradictory. It felt like close reading a story, making the connections between interactions and themes. What was unique though, was that this story was being told through aerial acrobatics where each flip, twist, and smirk on the face layered nuanced meanings.
This performance was definitely a unique highlight of fall semester so far, and hands down we would recommend everybody to watch. We would like to thank Lauren Rile Smith ‘08 for bringing us out to watch her group Tangled perform
At Swarthmore, Smith studied English and Philosophy and discovered acrobatics when she took a two-week acrobatics workshop (offered by Quinn Bauriedel ‘94 of the Pig Iron Theater Company) on a whim. She didn’t have much physical activity other than riding her bike around campus, but the workshop “reframed her perspective and gave her a goal over the next few years,” Smith said. She now does pull-ups for fun. After her time at Swarthmore, she founded Tangle in 2011 because she “found radical potential in aerial acrobatics to question our assumptions about bodies, gender, and relationships between people.” Since then, Tangle has made nine full-length shows along with other smaller projects, and performed The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct as their fifth FringeArts festival.
Featured image by Sam Shih ’19/The Daily Gazette.