by Len Lear
Chestnut Hill native, Lauren Rile Smith, 28, is the founder of Tangle Movement Arts, an aerial dance company of seven women who will be performing “The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct,” mixing dance, theater and aerial acrobatics as part of the Philadelphia FringeArts Festival on Sept. 10 to 12.
Tangle Movement Arts is a circus arts company with a contemporary twist. According to Lauren, “We have an interdisciplinary focus, whose work integrates traditional circus-like aerial acrobatics with dance, theater and live music. Tangle’s work reflects diverse identities, with an emphasis on queer and female experiences.”
Philadelphia City Paper has written about them, “Tangle Movement Arts has a record of quality-yet-accessible shows, simultaneously lovely and exhilarating.” Based in West Philadelphia, Tangle has been a FringeArts favorite since its inception in 2011.
Last year’s FringeArts performance by Tangle was called “Loop.” In their new effort, when a new neighbor moves into the rowhouse next door, six longtime housemates spark with conflict, romance, trapeze duets and the need for a very modern etiquette manual. Against a kinetic cityscape of suspended rope and silk walls, “The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct” investigates life’s unspoken rules, female strength and what it means to live in a community. Tangle’s innovative acrobats swing from trapezes, cartwheel across the dinner table and lift each other out of trouble in this new show.
The acrobats do not speak onstage, although their movements sometimes evoke dialogue. “However,” Lauren explained, “throughout our show we use recorded voiceovers to quote from the fictional advice manual of the title, ‘The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct.’”
The New York Times has written about Tangle, “Tangle Movement Arts turns a series of hanging loops into a stand-in for examining precarious relationships.”
Lauren, who was once an intern at the Chestnut Hill Local, graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in English literature and philosophy. After graduation, she made a somewhat unlikely transition and enrolled at the Germantown-based Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. “When I started training,” she recalled, “I was inspired by the blend of athleticism, narrative and physical artistry in contemporary circus arts.” Smith subsequently undertook further training at LAVA and Ruby Streak Trapeze Studio, both of which are circus schools in Brooklyn.
Currently, Smith works at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Pennsylvania. She is the rare materials assistant in the Special Collections Library, which means that she helps process rare books and manuscripts as they come into the collections. “It allows me to switch gears,” she explained, “between the head-centered world of books and libraries and the body-centered world of training circus arts. I chose the name Tangle for our acrobatic performance company because we are all about the possibilities that arise when things get complicated. Tangle also evokes the shapes of bodies you might see onstage when we perform.”
In a previous Fringe Festival performance by Tangle, Lauren was asked to explain their performance briefly to an eight-year-old. Her reply: “Seven women get together for a party — on aerial silks, trapeze and other circus equipment. We’re going to climb the furniture, carry each other around and make new enemies and friends.”
At the time one of the performers in Tangle was seven months pregnant during the show. “Let me tell you,” Lauren said. “Trapeze is really hard, and it’s even harder when you’re doing pull-ups for two! Tangle is all about diverse expressions of female strength, so I love it.”
Tangle usually produces two all-new shows each year, one at the Fringe Festival in September and one independently produced in March. They also teach trapeze classes at a dance studio in center city. “The Girl’s Guide” is the company’s ninth full-length show. “We feel that it’s our most mature aerial storytelling yet,” said Lauren. “We don’t have concrete plans to tour the show yet, but we’re especially excited about this show and are definitely interested in continuing to perform it after the Fringe Festival.”
“The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct” will be performed at Philadelphia Soundstages, 1600 N. 5th St., on Thursday, Sept. 10, 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 11, 8 p.m., and Saturday, Sept. 12, 3 and 8 p.m.