‘Tell It Slant’ with innovative aerial stories

A Tangle Movement Arts performer. Photo by Michael Ermilio.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” Emily Dickinson wrote, and now, the Philly-based interdisciplinary circus arts company Tangle Movement Arts is giving new life to the poet’s words.

Tangle integrates traditional aerial acrobatics with dance and theater to tell multidimensional stories. Tangle’s works reflect individuals of diverse identities, with an emphasis on female and queer experiences, and are devised collaboratively.

From English and philosophy to the circus

Founded in 2011 by Lauren Rile Smith, Tangle Movement Arts is a collective of like-minded acrobats. After graduating from Swarthmore College with a degree in English and philosophy, Smith trained in circus arts at Lava in Brooklyn, NY, and then at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. She wanted to question the assumptions of what the body could do based on its function and modes of expression. She wanted to use the art of circus performing to build bodies and also have them move with grace.

Tangle performances are intimate without being sexual, Smith tells BSR. For their eighth full-length production, they’ll present Tell it Slant at Christ Church Neighborhood House.

Tell It Slant was inspired by Emily Dickinson’s ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant,’ and tells the stories of female experience,” Smith says. “From a moving memoir of a woman struggling to become pregnant to a lighthearted romance, the stories explored in this production are part biographical, part fictitious, and part historical.” Ranging from deeply emotional to lighthearted, these stories will be told using the exciting vehicle of aerial acrobatics and dance theatre.

No director, no choreographer

Smith reveals that Tangle Movement Arts operates without a director or a choreographer:

“This enables the group to trade roles when working on different projects. The rotating of responsibilities allows performers to contribute to each project in different ways, and it supports the collaborative process that is encouraged by the group.”

Joining Tell It Slant as guest artists are Megan Gendell and Lauren Feldman, internationally performing duo trapeze artists from the celebrated New England Center for Circus Arts. They debut a dramatic new act, which explores trust and freedom between two people in dynamic motion. Set design is contributed by artist Julia Wilson, whose fiber art sculptures transform the Christ Church Neighborhood House stage.

Also known for their smaller projects of pop-up circus in parks and community festivals, Tangle is heavily involved in community engagement projects. Recently funded by a City Performance and Public Space Grant, the group took a pop-up circus show to Clark Park in West Philadelphia.

Tell It Slant premieres at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street, Philadelphia, on Thursday March 12 and runs through Saturday, March 14. Tickets ($15-20) are available online.

At right: a Tangle trio. Photo by Michael Ermilio.