If your impression of Cirque du Soleil is dorky, bizarre, spellbinding or thrilling, this local, smaller rendition aims to give it meaning and a profound message.
Tangle Movement Arts, an all-female contemporary circus arts group, just wrapped up its series of performances as part of the 2019 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Five shows took place from Sept. 4 through 7 at Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City.
This year’s presentation, dubbed “In Transit,” depicted both the ordinary and often extraordinary moments that happen on public transportation.
Nine women — many of them moms — were high-flying through the air, hanging on trapeze, climbing silks or chains, as well as mixing traditional acrobatics with dance, theater and other types of live performances to tell a multi-dimensional story. It’s all part of Fringe Festival, the three-week, city-wide celebration of art, innovation and creativity going on now through Sept. 22 in neighborhoods across the city.
Contrary to their name, however, Tangled women are anything but — they don’t get snarled up in their act. They perform in fluidity, using props and other elements to get their message across. Using sound effects, lighting and music, “In Transit” follows the women on simulated subway and bus rides. If you weren’t paying close attention, though, you may have missed what was happening.
For Lee Thompson, 35, her character in “In Transit” is (literally and figuratively) taking on the burdens of people around her — including friends and family — but rarely accepts any help in return. She is the caretaker, the helping hand, the proverbial shoulder to cry on. This was exemplified in pieces dubbed, “Can you call me back?” and “Stubborn and Drained,” for instance.
“Sometimes, [inspiration] comes from an aspect of my life that I like to express…So there’s that pride and feeling like, no — this is mine to bear,” Thompson said of her character. “There are lots of stubborn people out there, and that deserves some expressions.”
Thompson has been a part of Tangle since 2011. Asked how she learned to do aerial dance theater, she noted she never had any formal training.
“I was in my early 20s, just sitting behind a desk,” she said. “I never danced. I never did gymnastics or any sports, and my friend asked me, ‘Hey, do you want to try this wacky thing?’ I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do this.’ It was a lot of time and a lot of believing in the people around me.”
Lauren Rile Smith, who founded Tangle Movement Arts in 2011, wanted to provide a laser focus on “queer and female experiences.” So she went about the comprisal of an all-female cast.
“I fell in love with the challenge of circus arts and saw the physical metaphor for human relationships…some literally left hanging,” Smith told PW. “I saw the strength in women’s bodies and range in women’s relationships. That was really inspiring to men, too. And when I founded Tangle, there were not a lot of circus performances in Philadelphia.”
By day, Rebecca MoDavis is a union carpenter and upholsterer, but you would never guess that as she’s flipping through the air on trapeze and upside down on heavy silks. She’s been in the Tangle circus group for seven years and is the mom of a toddler.
At 38, she admits she does sometimes still get scared from time to time. The night PW went to see the show, MoDavis said she cut her backflip dismount from her act because she had reservations about it.
“Absolutely, yes, I’m scared all the time,” she said. “That’s part of what draws me to it, to be honest. It’s kind of what makes you feel that glee inside, like a little kid. It’s doing that crazy stuff that gets your adrenaline pumping.”
Probably true, evident from the curious audience’s “wow”s, “oohs” and “ahhs” throughout the night.
There’s so much Fringe to choose from, so we chose for you. Consider adding these #PhillyFringe19 events to your calendar this week. You’re welcome.
Translation: Cracking the Girl Code
Go along for the ride as the rigors of the music industry and rigors of being transgender — and black — in America collide in this musical. It’s a story of the first black trans female group as they prepare to embark on a world tour while dealing with both the open and closeted oppression that comes with it. | Sept. 19, 8:30 p.m. Tabu Sports Bar and Lounge, 254 S. 12th St. Sept 22, 2:30 p.m. William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St. tmgreen267.com
Free Fringe Philly
We wrote just last week that while awesome, some Fringe shows forget that not everyone in this town has disposable income. It’s why Chris Davis, Betty Smithsonian and Sarah Knittel combined to create Free Fringe, a week of Fringe-like shows that are not affiliated with Fringe but are exactly like Fringe that everyone can afford because, well, it’s all free. | Shows, times vary. freefringephilly.com/
If you’re obsessed with the exotic dance that is Flamenco as much as we are, then we’re all collectively in for one hell of a treat as this production featuring dancer and choreographer Elba Hevia y Vaca makes its world premiere here in Philadelphia. Vaca will show just how important dance has been to her life and to scores of Spanish-speaking immigrants in this piece. | Sept. 19-21, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 22, 6:30 p.m. $20. ($15 for students). Exuberance, 1220 N. Mascher St. fringearts.com/event/la-bolivianita/
Fringe Artists and Makers Fair
It’s exactly as it sounds. Check out some great creativity and take home a couple pieces to add to your collection as some of the area’s best independent artists, makers and designers showcase their wares for you to peruse all day long. | Sept. 15, noon-6 p.m. Haas Biergarten at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Blvd. fringearts.com
We owe Gunnar Montana an apology. In our Fringe Issue, we bungled the dates, times and location of his Fringe offering. His look inside one man’s nightmare runs the entire length of Fringe. Something we’re definitely excited about. Hey, sorry, Gunnar. To err is human and all that shit. | Sept. 14, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.; Sept. 15, 17-20, 8 p.m.; Sept. 21, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.; Sept. 22, 8 p.m. $45. The Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th St. fringearts.com