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2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Surface Tension’ at Tangle Movement Arts

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In Surface Tension, the Philadelphia-based circus arts company Tangle Movement Arts spotlights the skills of six female performers. They use ropes, swings, bungee cords, and aerial silks in a frequently dazzling display of aerial skill.

Lee Thompson and Lauren Rile Smith. Photo by Michael Takes Pictures.

Lee Thompson and Lauren Rile Smith. Photo by Michael Takes Pictures.

The women of Tangle are almost constantly in motion, rising and descending on silks or spinning clockwise in a virtually endless loop. It’s quite impressive, and occasionally heart-stopping; the audience gasped at one point when a performer hung to a trapeze only by her feet.

Nina Giacobbe. Photo by Michael Takes Pictures.

Nina Giacobbe. Photo by Michael Takes Pictures.

Surface Tension uses interweaving plot threads to connect many of the scenes, in an effort to make the show more like a conventional play. We follow the tribulations of several young women who deal with problems in their personal lives yet soar in their dreams.

They include a couple (Lee Thompson and Lauren Rile Smith) who meet on Tinder then must deal with the ups and down of their long-term relationship. We also follow a woman (Nina Giacobbe) experiencing anxiety about her new job. The plot threads are rather sketchy, but they do help to sustain interest.

The best of the scenes are a series of vignettes about an advice columnist who feels unworthy of providing advice to all the other women. Pascale Smith is adorable and hilarious as the columnist. Genevieve Senechal contributes occasional dancing, and Maura Kirk does some striking aerial work.

Pascale Smith. Photo by Michael Takes Pictures.

Pascale Smith. Photo by Michael Takes Pictures.

While the acrobatic routines in Surface Tension are often remarkable, the show’s presentation is sometimes clunky. Pre-recorded music is used effectively during the routines, but the gaps between scenes could use some music too; these breaks are done in silence and complete darkness, and sometimes last more than a minute. The show comes to an awkward halt every time a scene transition is needed.

And while the routines were lovely to look at, some of them felt cryptic, even with the connecting stories. A piece in which Kirk rises and falls on an aerial silk was called “The Impeachable” and used Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” as a soundtrack; neither the title nor the song choice seemed to correspond to the action onstage.

Surface Tension is worth catching for the virtuoso athleticism and the intriguing way it’s presented.

No director is credited, but Lea Deutsch did the tech design, and Kae Greenberg’s lighting sets an exotic mood.

Running Time: 80 minutes, including an intermission.

Surface Tension runs through September 17, 2016 at The 2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival performing at Christ Church Neighborhood House – 20 North American Street in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 413-1318, or purchase them online.

RATING: FOUR-AND-A-HALF-STARS8.gif

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