With Points of Light, Philadelphia’s Tangle Movement Arts, an all-female aerial circus-dance ensemble, eschews the current trend of circus artists following a linear narrative and sends its artists coiling, flying, and climbing in abstract vignettes featuring music and spoken word. The company delivers a tight show with thrills to appease the kids and substance to engage the adults.
The experience, a little rough around the edges, is part of Tangle’s charm. Children run around before the show show and chatter occasionally throughout, transitions between pieces become carefully orchestrated distractions (one woman did a handstand and played a large piano dance mat as trapezes were swapped for silks), performers enter calmly and without flash. It’s a relaxed atmosphere. But physical mastery and mixed-media flair keep the show from being a mere showcase.
Talk less, fly more
Tangle’s acrobats perform with strength and agility. Lee Thompson’s stoicism and power dazzle, even when taking to the silks blindfolded (yes, blindfolded) for climbs, inversions, and fast drops. Meredith Rosenthal offers levity in a flirty, funky trapeze routine set to bossanova-esque brass music. Even Tangle founder Lauren Rile Smith delivers a simple yet moving trapeze performance while carrying the added weight of an “extra passenger”: Smith is seven months pregnant.
Points of Light best hits its mark when the artists trust simplicity. Megan Gendell airily lifts and throws herself around the stage in the show’s final trapeze number set to a section of Kathryn Shulz’s TED talk on being wrong. Gendell, satisfyingly, marries physical strength with emotional depth. Speech melds seamlessly with choreography, which Gendell executes with grace and precision. It is an effortless and refreshing number.
But occasional flourishes throughout feel like gilding the lily rather than being necessary additions. Spoken text during transitions and in some of the routines either distracts or becomes difficult to follow, especially when it accompanies already complex and pleasing movement. The result ultimately becomes sensory overload.
Quieter moments, when performers hold a difficult pose, succumb to trembling fingers, or break open into tranquil smiles make Points of Light the kind of circus lovers of mixed arts will appreciate. Tangle Movement Arts has the stage presence to achieve poignant emotional depth while flipping through the air; they're already a company to watch, and I look forward to the day they allow themselves to freefall fully into those skills.