The much-talked about Tangle Movement Arts was founded in 2011 by Lauren Rile Smith, a Philadelphia poet and performer.
In this interview, Rebecca MoDavis and Maura Kirk, two of Tangle’s aerial artists, talk openly about their experiences on and off the flying trapeze, revealing how even the breakup of dysfunctional relationships and the bringing of new life into this world can lead to beautiful new breakthroughs.
PGN: No one is born a natural acrobat. How did you discover your interest and hone your skills in one of the most dangerous forms of art?
Maura Kirk: My flair for the dramatic was innate: I danced competitively from a young age, did community theater and generally took every opportunity to get on stage. In my mid-20s, I ended a long-term abusive relationship. The day my restraining order was finalized was the same day that I learned you could take aerial classes at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. I had never even considered that it was something you could learn as an adult. I signed up for my first intro class that night, so my aerial practice has always been entwined with the drive to gain strength and independence — and trust my intuition.
Rebecca MoDavis: In 2009, my roommate convinced me to accompany her in a quest for entertaining non-drinking activities, and we ended up in an aerial-arts class. Within the span of a class time, I was obsessed with the physical high and the potential to conquer a specific fear.
PGN: Writers, actors and dancers can make mistakes and rectify them. Aerial artists, swinging from one trapeze to another, cannot afford a single mistake. What did you learn about yourself and others while exposing yourself to life-enhancing, but also to life-threatening situations?
RM: Commitment. You cannot second-guess yourself or another person, whether that's in executing a trick, or in just physically showing up to practice. I value the weekly facetime of working with other women artists and the supportive environment for creative exploration.
PGN: Tangle Arts calls itself Philadelphia's "queer female aerial dance company." What does that mean to you personally and what do you hope to convey to your audience, including the next generation of girls and young women — ultimately, to all of us?
RM: My heart is in the telling of the female experience. To show the strength and beauty of women — together and alone. Tangle has provided a strong platform to express this philosophy, working collaboratively with women of varied artistic and personal backgrounds. I hope my own daughter will grow up being proud of her body, sexuality, and capabilities.
MK: Our queerness informs our relationships, the ways in which we relate to the world and the ways in which we depict ourselves on stage. I identify as a queer femme, and this cohort has been invaluable to me. It allows space for expression with a lack of presumptions. We've each experienced significant events and personal milestones throughout our time working together, and there's an understanding that an experience may be more nuanced or complex than a mainstream narrative would depict. We're able to give each other that space and explore it in our art. Not everyone in our company identifies as queer, and our audience is similarly diverse. The ideas of meaningful, supportive and complicated female relationships resonate deeply with all of us.
PGN: Is there anything else you would like to share?
RM: This is my first Tangle show since having a baby in January. I had to bring Jolene to half of our rehearsals. All the members have helped by including her in the stretching routines and occupying her while I get some trapeze time in. This situation wouldn't be possible in many other groups. I'm blown away, humbled and grateful to the company for accommodating this arrangement.
"Life Lines" plays September 6-9, 2017 at 3 pm and 8 pm at The 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival and is presented by Neighborhood House (20 N. American Street, Philadelphia PA 19106); running time: 90 minutes, including a 10-minute intermission.
For tickets, call the Fringe box office at 215-413-1318, or purchase them online.