Flips, kicks, and gender bending

Lauren Rile Smith and Sarah Nicolazzo rehearse for the show.  Credit: Michael Ermilio Lauren Rile Smith and Sarah Nicolazzo rehearse for the show.
Credit: Michael Ermilio

The Philly arts scene is progressive enough that when you hear about a trapeze show that delves into the world of queer culture and gender blurring, it sounds like any other Thursday night. Enter “Invert!,” an aerial-arts show being put on by Tangle Movement Arts, a women’s circus arts organization, that pairs impressive physical feats with feminism.

With just two little syllables and an exclamation point, the performance’s title provides a fair amount of insight. “’Invert!’connects a nod to queer history — ‘invert’ being a 19th-century term for gender non-conformitism — with the basic shape of circus arts: a body upside down,” says Tangle Movement Arts founder Lauren Rile Smith. “‘Invert!’presents an evening of upended expectations.”

For those who believe circus arts to be just a bunch of spinning and dangling from ropes, your expectations will not only be “upended,” as Smith says, they will be shattered. Along with glitter and sequins you’ll see fire, power tools, and according to Smith, “drag-inspired diva fabulousness.” As for the auditory experience, you’ll hear are monologues, duets and violin solos courtesy of the Carnegie Hall-playing, Julliard-attending wunderkind Caeli Smith.

The topic of gender, with all its political branches, is boundless, and that’s what makes trapeze a great venue for discussion. Sure, there’s the drastic juxtaposition between flames or power tools and silk ropes and physical flexibility, but the nuances are there, too. Pay close attention to the interactions — the back and forth — between performers, and the difference in their individual presentation. “In a Tangle show, performers display a wide range of body types, gender presentations, and relationships — whether those are relationships of support, antagonism, flirtation, or partnership,” Smith says. It’s obvious that this performance will be no exception.

Look familiar?

You may not realize it, but it’s possible that you’ve seen these performers before. Tangle Movement Arts has put on several free outdoor acrobatic shows under the name “tinycircus.” They’ve performed at craft fairs and community events throughout the city, with a focus in West Philly.

If you go

May 16-May 18

The Rotunda

4014 Walnut St.

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