Ampersand blends circus with story

Tangle: Movement Arts’ Fringe Fest show, Ampersand employs circus techniques such as aerial acrobatics and trapeze. Ampersand, Tangle: Movement Arts’ first full length production, made its debut Thursday at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Ampersand weaves

Tangle: Movement Arts’ Fringe Fest show, Ampersand employs circus techniques such as aerial acrobatics and trapeze.

Ampersand, Tangle: Movement Arts’ first full length production, made its debut Thursday at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.


Ampersand weaves traditional circus moves with a strong narrative. The show was separates 13 acts into individual stories. The overarching theme of each story is everyday life in Philadelphia. The stories range from getting ready in the morning and experiencing the daily grind, to finding love and dealing with loss.

“For me, aerials are about strangeness and impossibility,” said Sarah Nicolazzo, a Tangle founding member. “I think there’s something really utopian about an art that’s all about pushing the boundaries of what bodies naturally do, how they move, how they relate to gravity and each other.”

The performers use facial expressions and body language to tell the story.

“I’ve been told I have a very expressive face, and I think that’s my strongest asset in performing,” said Maura Kirk, another founding member of Tangle.

Tangle began in 2011, with Tangle founder Lauren Rile Smith’s original idea to infuse a narrative into a circus performance. Ampersand was a collaboration between all of the performers, which drew inspiration from the strangeness and impossibilities in everyday life.

The feeling in the theater was that of anticipation. The room looked like a warehouse with circus equipment and lights on one end and chairs set up on the other.

“I’m excited to bring this show to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival because I think it’s very special, not quite like any other dance, theater, or even circus arts show, but sharing elements of many different styles of performance,” Smith, founder of Tangle: Movement Arts, said.

When the lights dimmed, the performers were captivating, moving to the beat of soft music. Every time a performer did a quick, dropping move the frame that the circus apparatuses were attached to would shake and add to the awe of the scene. There was a full crowd and when the show paused for intermission the audience hesitated to move.

The name Ampersand, the word for the typesetter’s symbol for “and,” was inspired by the unusual connections and intersections of life. They took the unique ways they could move their bodies and used them to reflect the surprising aspects of life, while keeping a familiarity in every story.

Each story uses different techniques to convey the plot to the audience.

Deena Weisberg, a founding member who performs on aerial silks, uses props and costumes to outline her story and then uses her movements to bring the character to life.

“The first piece that I’m performing in Ampersand involves my character waking up and getting ready for work,” Weisberg said. “I start off in a position that’s suggestive of sleeping, and then do a long, back-arching move that looks like a morning stretch.”

She then proceeds to get ready for work, and put on a suit while on aerial silks.

While the members of Tangle have trained at schools around the world, including Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, most of them are in college or work additional jobs unrelated to the circus.

Weisberg will be starting her postdoctoral work in Kathy Hirsh-Pasek’s lab in the psychology department at Temple this fall. She found the group through a friend who rode the unicycle. She wanted to learn how to ride as well, and searched for somewhere to learn. When she found the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, she discovered  they also offered trapeze classes.

“The unicycle idea went right out the window when I learned I could study trapeze,” Weisberg said. “The first trick I learned at that workshop was how to slide down a rope upside-down, and after that I was hooked.”

Kae Greenberg, Ampersand’s lighting designer, graduated from Beasley Law School in 2011.

Most of the performers joined Tangle through Smith, and training at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.

“[Smith] officially invited me to join the company this spring, and I was very excited to accept because I really liked the idea of taking our aerials background in a slightly different direction,” Weisberg said.

While Ampersand is Tangle’s first full length show they have done monthly performances they call “tinycircus.” These informal and free performances take place in public locations in Philadephia.

So far, tinycircus has only taken place in West Philadelphia’s Clark Park but they are looking to expand and perform at new locations. Their website,, will be updated when final arrangements have been made.

These passionate performers plan to continue their venture into the circus, narrative combination.

“Life is a lot better when you can look at it upside down every once in a while,” Weisberg said.

Amanda Rossetti can be reached at

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