Tangle Movement Arts offers twist on conflict


As a University of Pennsylvania-employed developmental psychologist, Deena Weisberg devotes her days to analyzing how children learn through literature, especially courtesy of fiction.

While words win her curiosity, the bodies responsible for them offer the utterances competition, with the South-of-South dweller and her Tangle Movement Arts peers set to explore the latter tonight through Saturday, which they will execute at the Fishtown-situated Philadelphia Soundstages with “Break/Drift/Resist,” their new piece for FringeArts (See page 8 for more shows).

“We always look to touch on elements of human interaction and are building around conflict as this show’s theme,” the 32-year-old circus-theater enthusiast said last week of her eight-member aerial acrobatics group. “With our identity as an all-woman company, we put emphasis on highlighting female strengths, which comes through our great bonds with one another and focus on our artistry.”

Primed for their third appearance in the late-summer celebration, Tangle’s performers call on circus disciplines such as aerial silks, rope and trapeze to craft their works, with Weisberg noting collaborations yield material designed to encourage audiences to ponder their relationships. With their recent output, she feels they are addressing the strengthening and altering of those unions. Primarily tasked to perform a silks act, she is looking forward to tackling the second component.

“I’m something of an antagonistic presence,” the Ivy League educator said of testing her cohorts’ resolve through her fabric frivolity. “I try to impede the action and help patrons to see the ripple effects of community interaction.”

Weisberg has contributed to Tangle’s tight-knit family for two years, finding herself so enthralled with exploring the physicality of her art that she even took to the trapeze while eight months pregnant for last year’s festival. She chooses endeavors based on the amount of training she can fit into her professional and parental schedules, yet no matter her selection, the aim remains the same.

“This is my escape, my release,” she said of her hobby, which she initiated four years ago through the Germantown-based Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, where she first defied gravity via the trapeze. “It’s definitely a different outlet and an interesting way to understand more about how we use our bodies to tell stories.”

With “Break/Drift/Resist,” Weisberg believes Tangle is remaining true to its desire to tell multidimensional tales, which its constituents also accomplish with smaller-scale pieces. As she reflects on the company’s philosophy of engendering strength among women and realizing the wonders of collaborative work, she knows that levity shines through all the seriousness.

“It’s all very fun,” she said of the 90-minute brainchild. “We’re bringing circus theater to those who might not necessarily know about it, but regardless of their background, I think my duty is to help them to enjoy their outing.”

Hailing from North Jersey, Weisberg used an early interest in literature to devise her career path. Interested not just in what one could discern from reading a text, she matriculated at Stanford University, earning a degree in symbolic systems. Constantly inquiring about the acquisition and perception of knowledge, she returned to the East Coast for her Yale University-issued doctorate in psychology, with further tutelage gained at Rutgers University.

“I’m curious about the psychological processes of inspecting and contemplating literature, especially through fictional characters and situations that aren’t real,” the senior fellow, who joined Penn’s faculty in July after a stint as a Temple University postdoctoral researcher, said. “I like to examine what minds are thinking and what people are doing with those thoughts.”

Looking to inspire similar affinity, she is helping undergraduates to navigate through her ever-evolving field. Because of the constant focus on understanding how youths can use numerous sources to heighten not only their comprehension but also their imagination, she hopes her charges will wish to become scientific leaders. Finding herself trying to be a credible figure in two realms, she also has decided to shun timidity and reach new heights in more ways than one.

“It’s been an experiment, and a worthwhile one, at that, in coming to understand myself a bit more,” Weisberg said of her engagement with Tangle, whose website cites its work as reflective of “individuals of diverse identities, with an emphasis on queer and female experience.” “We’re unique in that we’re all women but kind of standard in that we want to get people to ponder who they are.”

Blessed to have professional and theatrical camaraderie, the grateful individual also enjoys domestic bliss with husband Michael, a Penn philosophy professor, and their 9-month-old son, whom she contends will likely come to question her sanity for practicing circus arts.

“Who knows, maybe he’ll enjoy it,” she said. “It’s been important for me to try to juggle all that makes up my life, and I’m glad Tangle’s in the equation.”

Having learned of plans for “Break/Drift/Resist” earlier this summer, she will love calling on spectators to gauge its originators’ progress in meshing circus arts, dance and theater components. From a personal standpoint, the four-show experience will keep her infatuated with abandoning inhibition and lifting her spirits.

“The show deals with conflict, but underneath that are chances for growth,” Weisberg said. “That’s more important to realize.” SPR

For tickets, visit tangle-arts.com.

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.