Tangle Movement Arts: Storytelling Flying High

Lee Thompson by Michael Ermilio(1)
photo credit – Lee Thompson by Michael Ermilio

by Gregory King, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance at Swarthmore College for the Dance Journal

The Philadelphia Fringe festival is known for its multiplicity in arts presentation. From comedy fueled theatrical exchanges to politically charged performances that dealt with complex social issues, Philly Fringe showcased works by internationally acclaimed artists as well as local Philadelphia artists.

A novel and fascinating approach to dance and performance art, The Tangle Movement Arts presented their latest production The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct, which intersected at the nexus of art, politics and social narratives.

A “FOR RENT” sign hung downstage right, while a lonely sofa sat stage left. Trapezes, scarves, and swings were all suspended from the ceiling, waiting to be mounted.

Each section was introduced over the speakers, and the audience used these introductions to allow them to gain access to interpretation. These introductions were both helpful and necessary as dance and other non-verbal art forms sometimes lack the capacity for direct translation when attempting to tell a story.

Each member of the troupe had a memorable title attached to her name. From “the one who can’t find her keys”, to “the one who mails the rent check”, the players in Girl’s Guide lived out their characters with pantomimic gestures such as the wave of a hand, animated facial expressions or emphatically shrugged shoulders to suggest flirting or being shy. These gestures were sometimes gimmicky but always entertaining.

As the scenes took shape, I found myself eagerly anticipating the moment when the performers would reach for the dangling apparatus. I felt comforted in my eagerness as I listened to a little girl in the audience ask her mother, “ when are they going to fly ?”

While the performers’ miming was mediocre, their aerial and trapeze skills coupled with their fearlessness, made the miming forgivable, and allowed their forte to stand solid.

Sal Nicolazzo, played “the one who was new in town”. Her lithe body made her handling of the circle trapeze, appear seamless.

She mounted gently.

She balanced prudently.

She maneuvered skillfully.

She dismounted weightlessly.

Lauren Rile Smith’s approach to the trapeze was with a different intensity.

She was subtle yet unrestrained.

She was specific and dangerous.

She wasn’t apprehensive, she was assertive as she gripped the trapeze to show who was in charge.

Each performer displayed control over each piece of equipment while working diligently to energize her character.

I found myself linking their aesthetic to that of Pilobolus Dance Theater, knowing that Pilobolus have successfully fused gymnastics, dance and theatre. Tangle Movement Arts offer from a different menu; one that redefines artistic expression through a physically compelling art form. TMA worked to re-calibrate the conversation around the meaning of dance and what it means to be a dancer as they hung, wrapped, swung, inverted, and flipped from each apparatus.

The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct explored complex relationships in what could have been seen as simple situations. They met as strangers, disputed as neighbors, and made up as friends. These artists tackled issues such as gender and sexuality using a highly physical art form, all the while swinging upside down, high above the ground.