2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Life Lines’ by Tangle Movement Arts at Neighborhood House

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Life Lines is a new, collectively-developed work by the all-female ensemble Tangle Movement Arts. Tangle’s work is mostly derived from circus arts, particularly aerial performance on trapeze and silks, accompanied by music, live and recorded.

Lee Thompson. Photo by Michael Ermilio.

Lee Thompson. Photo by Michael Ermilio.

Tangle describes Life Lines as “aerial dance and vertical drama” depicting “the chain reaction of a community healing after sudden disruption.” Without that description, I might not have been able to discern the elements of narrative in the performance. Storytelling without verbal text or overt pantomime can be difficult. In Life Lines, the two threads I detected were a jilted lover (Deena Weisberg) and someone with a vague neurosis (Lee Thompson). The latter was the most developed. The story started with “Don’t You Understand?,” a scene in which Ms. Thompson attempts to cross the performance space without stepping on the stage floor, trying to rely instead on what looked like carpet circles barely larger than her two feet. Her attempt to cross is repeatedly thwarted by “assistance” from other company members, who throw the circles too far away from her, pull them from under her feet, and other metaphors of dysfunctional relationships. This story reaches its high point in “High and Safe,” where her character grabs hold of a suspended hoop as her last circle is pulled from beneath her feet and performs an aerial routine of strength and freedom in the air. Apart from this, the caliber of the technique, sometimes combined with an impressionistic feeling of emotion, made a stronger impression than a sense of story or character.

Variations on the freedom of the air are repeated throughout the performance on a set featuring multiple trapezes of different heights, the hoop, and Chinese silks. These aerial performances are generally stronger than the floor work in the piece, and are more striking (for those whose experience is mostly Ringling Brothers or Cirque du Soleil) because Tangle’s ensemble is not limited to those companies’ petite sylphs. Instead, the grace and strength of a wide female bodies is demonstrated. For me, a highlight was Meredith Rosenthal’s exuberant work on the silks to the accompaniment of Eartha Kitt’s “I Want to Be Evil.” This is very early in the first act, however, which meant that very good work, particularly by Weisberg and by Maura Kirk, did not have as great an impact as it would have had it appeared later. Ms. Rosenthal unfortunately did not appear again until curtain call.

Live music, most of it original and upbeat, was provided by singer/mandolin player Pascale Smith and the Guide Birds (Robin Allen, Andrea Balise, and Samee Kirk). Smith, Balise, and Kirk all shone on vocal solos.

Although Life Lines does not provide the emotional journey its publicity describes, it does provide a satisfying and sometimes impressive evening of entertainment.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with one intermission.

Life Lines plays through September 9, 2017 at the 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival at Neighborhood House, 20 North American St., in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-1318, or purchase them online.

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