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Singing From a Trapeze: Interview with Tangle Movement Arts’ founder, Lauren Rile Smith

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Lauren Rile Smith, a Philadelphia poet and performer, founded Tangle Movement Arts in 2011.

She has trained trapeze and other circus arts at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts and many other places. As a circus instructor, she’s committed to creating a safe, fun environment that welcomes all people. Tangle’s newest show, Life Lines, is part of the 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

When not on a trapeze, Lauren lives in West Philadelphia. She works at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania, and edits poetry for Cleaver Magazine.

Lauren Rile Smith. Photo courtesy Tangle Movement Arts.

Lauren Rile Smith. Photo courtesy Tangle Movement Arts.

Henrik Eger: When first did you realize that you were fascinated by acrobats and what did you do to get the necessary training?

Lauren Rile Smith: Like a lot of people, I grew up with depictions of circus acrobats in children’s books. My first real connection with aerial arts came in 2007 when I saw LAVA, the Brooklyn-based feminist dance troupe, perform trapeze as part of queer contemporary dance. I was instantly hooked.

A few years later, I had the chance to start training trapeze myself, and was inspired to start a Philly-based aerial dance theater company. I wanted to use the highly physical language of circus arts to tell stories about female bodies and queer relationships. We launched Tangle in the 2011 Philly Fringe Festival. I’m proud to still be working with largely the same ensemble — six years and twelve shows later.

Henrik: What did you learn about yourself as an aerial artist and as a human being in working with your fellow acrobats, swinging high up in the air?

Lauren: Tangle’s work is created by the entire company, with no single director or choreographer. On top of the physical daring of aerial acrobatics, this collective process requires a serious commitment of trust and communication. Over years of creative collaboration, we’ve pushed each other to new heights (if you’ll pardon the pun) and are always seeking fresh ways to grow — as artists and as friends. In Life Lines, you’ll see us pursuing brand-new performance aspects, including live music — and singing on trapeze.

Lauren Rile Smith. Photo courtesy Tangle Movement Arts.

Lauren Rile Smith. Photo courtesy Tangle Movement Arts.

Henrik: You and Tangle Arts are well-known for having fostered “queer circus-theater” to such an extent that, going by the responses from critics and audience members alike, you are touching on many raw nerves where people recognize that you are opening unexpected doors — high up in the air.

Lauren: Many Tangle performers identify as queer in their personal lives. More importantly to us as a company, “queer circus-theater” is Tangle’s commitment to depict a range of relationships between women onstage — from the passionate to the platonic.

In a world where women’s relationships are frequently flattened into stereotypes (or entirely missing from the stage) we make shows that take women seriously — as friends, lovers, coworkers, or enemies. The physical storytelling inherent in circus arts lets us explore how women might hold each other up — or let each other fall.

Henrik: We heard through the grapevine that you gave the world a special gift. How has that situation affected your art of swinging high up through the air?

Lauren: At this year’s Fringe Arts Festival, I won’t be up in the air myself because I’m recovering from having delivered a baby earlier this summer. My body has been through many changes in the past year. It’s not always easy to see the path back toward the intensity of circus training. However, I will be performing as part of the ensemble in Life Lines.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Lauren: I’m deeply inspired to be sharing a stage in Life Lines with three other Tangle members who have also delivered babies in the past two years. I’ve learned a great deal about strength and resilience from my associates and fellow travelers through the air, and I’m looking forward to getting back onto the trapeze to tell — and maybe even sing — new stories.

Running time: 90 minutes, including a 10 minute intermission.

Lee Thompson and Lauren Rile Smith in 2016's Surface Tension. Photo by Michael Ermilio.

Lee Thompson and Lauren Rile Smith in 2016’s Surface Tension. Photo by Michael Ermilio.

Life Lines plays September 6-9, 2017 at The 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, performing at Christ Church Neighborhood House – 20 North American Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-1318, or purchase them online.

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