This week, ten women will undress in mid air as they’re suspended 20 feet above a stage by silk sheaths and trapeze, and they’re doing it in the name of feminism.
On Thursday, RetroAct debuts at the Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City. It’s the newest circus-theater show from the loins of Tangle, Philly's first all-female aerial dance theater company. Some of the performers are in same-sex relationships with each other, which fuels the show's emotional fire.
“The goal was to create a feminist circus theater show inspired by the possibility of circus art about one’s own strength and relationships,” said West Philly native Lauren Rile Smith, Tangle's founder.
RetroAct is a twist on Tangle that mixes traditional circus stunts like trapeze and aerial skills with dance, theater and live music with an emphasis on queer and female experiences, Smith told Metro.
The 29-year-old said that while her all-female cast will illustrate a mix of romantic emotions on stage and in the air, theirs and hers in real life are not so dissimilar.
“We do have several real-life partnerships behinds the scenes in Tangle,” she said.
“We do kind of remix our characters and our on-stage relationships over and over, so we have some great, longstanding jokes in the company. During one of our shows in 2014, we had a long choreographic segment in which we joked was like a marriage happening on stage, so we joked that every night we got married over and over again. I do have a special bond with the woman I got ‘married’ to over and over again. It’s a very complicated relationship at this point. It’s been a huge pleasure.”
RetroAct’s acrobats, who also largely hail from West Philly, perform a combination of coquettish mid-air sequences, intricate balancing acts and campy drag duets.
In one example, a woman wakes up in lingerie and dresses for work, 20 feet in the air. In another, two women work out their frustration and flirtation in a mid-air dance that traverses the room and reaches the ceiling.
“I think that especially in a world of media in which relationships between women – passionate, platonic or antagonistic – frequently are rooted in stereotypes or erased altogether, it felt really relevant to display multiple types of relationships between women on stage,” said Smith.
“We love to come to the literal metaphor of people lifting their own weight or lifting the weight of others. We derive endless satisfaction getting bodies to do what they can do – spinning upside down 20 feet in the air – that sense of magical realism drives Tangle’s performances over and over.”
The show will also feature internationally acclaimed guest trapeze artist Megan Gendell and longtime Tangle collaborator Nina Giacobbe.
RetroAct will offer three performances Thursday through Saturday at Christ Church Neighborhood House.