Letting your hair down: UMO's latest a new take on Rapunzel

The lengths of red and purple material hanging from the ceiling of the Velocity Dance Studio become trees, hammocks, towers and even very long hair in UMO Ensemble's "Rapunzel."

The material is really a circus aerial apparatus known as a 'tissu.' About four years ago, a friend gave one to Esther Edelman.

"I became totally enamored with it," recalled Edelman. "I got taken with this idea that the tissu could be Rapunzel's hair. Originally, I was going to do a solo piece for the Fringe Festival, but then I became pregnant and couldn't do the festival."

A co-founder of the UMO Ensemble, Edelman has been performing as part of the group since 1985. UMO's combination of circus acts and theater has been a regular part of Seattle's fringe theater scene. UMO Ensemble shows often draw from such diverse elements as puppetry, dance, LeCoq buffoon and clown work, and, in the last few years, aerial performance on trapeze, hoop, swings and tissu. Edelman has performed in or choreographed such pieces as "Body Inheritance," "Millennium Circus," and the "Ringulons" (which took place on the top of the Space Needle).

The current production of "Rapunzel" heralded a return to Seattle theater after a few quiet years for UMO Ensemble.

"Three out of five [of UMO Ensemble members] had babies in the last four years. As much as we thought we could do it all, we found out differently," said Edelman about the company's unintentional hiatus.

With her own daughter Aziza now 3-and-half years old, Edelman found herself sharing a home with a small person fascinated by princesses. And that led her to thinking about the tissu/Rapunzel idea that had been floating around for several years.

Now 42, Edelman said that she wasn't worried about her age when she went back to aerial work. "In some ways, I'm in better shape than I was 10 years ago. I feel stronger," she said.

In "Rapunzel," Edelman plays Groa, the witch who suffers both Rapunzel and the Prince invading her tower. The role calls for a variety of aerial work on the tissu.

Although Edelman used a common fairy tale to shape this show, she didn't want to do a Disney princess story. Four years ago, her original inspiration had come from "Sexing the Cherry" by Jeannette Winterson. For this show, she invited local playwright Maria Glanz and choreographer Laura Curry to collaborate with UMO.

"In this piece, I've invited other people on [because], as an artist, I want to continue to develop. One way was to work with someone like Glanz, who carves her words in a way that shapes our work," said Edelman. "It's been wonderful to have a dance choreographer to work with us. All the characters are based on our ideas but she adds her own flavor."

Glanz is best known for her solo plays such as "See Me Naked," a favorite at the Seattle Fringe Theater, and the full-length "VIC (Spirit Made Flesh)" which won the 2002 Richard Hugo House New Play Award. Curry has been working for the past four years on "PINKK," a performance piece based on a study of voyeurism in contemporary culture.

Given the original inspiration of Winterson's book and the collaborators, it should come as no surprise to the audience that this "Rapunzel" is about adult relationships, the attractions of the opposite/same sex and the problems that result when nobody knows who or what they really want.

Performing with UMO co-founder David Godsey and guest artist Amy Rider, Edelman and her fellow aerial aerial artists roll entwined on the ground and in the air as well as flying solo in spins, twists and sudden upside-down moves on the tissu. And every move was designed to advance the story.

"I really didn't want 'Rapunzel' to be about tricks," said Edelman "I'm interested in using the aerial work in a much more artistic way. We want to [display] virtuosity but, at the same time, want the actions to be warranted in the scene."

"Rapunzel, A Radical Aerial Retelling" continues through April 24 at the Velocity Dance Studio, 915 E. Pine, on the second floor. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.. Tickets are $10 to $14 and available in advance through www.brownpaperticket.com or by calling 463-2128.

Rosemary Jones writes about arts and entertainment for the Capitol Hill Times. She can be reached at editor@capitolhill times.com.[[In-content Ad]]