Dance + Aerial arts = Bromelia

Dance is often a stunning spectacle. Even that video of that one guy dancing alone at the edge of a crowd whose sense of fun eventually wins over all the non-dancers. And the other guy who filmed himself doing his own crazy dance all around the world. Like at the base of a pyramid in Teotihuacan, Mexico.

But thing about dance, be it amateur or professional, is that it tends to happen at ground level. Which is wonderful, because dance is an expression of how, even as creatures of land, we can soar.

Local dance troupe Bromelia goes one better: They literally soar. The company’s performance, Jump Sessions at The Orange Peel last night (and again tonight) happened on multiple levels: One the venue’s floor, on chairs, on stage, and on three trapezes and a set of aerialist fabrics (aka silks). Combining circus arts, gymnastics, athleticism and modern dance vocabulary, the six-woman (Anna Bartlett, Lizzie Bruce, Jessica Hill, Amanda Jokerst, Heather Poole and Naomi Ullian) collective performed a stunning program.

The evening began with local experimental/instrumental band Hello Hugo taking the stage. The quartet (Rosser Douglas, Nick Prather, Reid Weigner and Justin Holt) played both band-only sets and as accompaniment to the dancers. Their opening song was simultaneously driving and atmospheric, whimsical and sentimental, bouncing like Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy.” Two screens projected images of dolphins, giant dish antennas and people kissing.

The juxtaposition between the band and the dancers created, if not a conversation in the performance, certainly another layer of complexity. A sort of brotherhood-meets-sisterhood, both adhering to and eschewing gender roles (the sheer strength of the dancers; the perhaps feminine softness of the melodies). And how they worked together yet never intersected — to the point where the trapezes on stage, in full flight, looked like they might land a dancer in the drum kit, but didn’t.

Bromelia’s show consisted of three pieces, or movements, or stories: “Yesterday/Ayers/Ams/Gesterm,” “Today/Hoy/Alyawn/Heute” and “Tomorrow/Manana/Ghandan/Morgen.” These progressed from experimental and youthfully-wild to a certain softness and ethereal-ness in the final act, though all three were shot throughout with hints of political themes and a kind of sadness or darkness expressed in gestures and facial expressions. From start to finish, the dancers’ hair, too, progressed from tightly braided to loose and flowing.

In a show studded with shining moments, some of the most breathtaking included the choreography of two dancers at once on a single trapeze, working as partners and as solo entities in daring suspensions that called to mind the trapeze artists and contortionists of early 1900s-era circuses.

Both Bromelia and Hello Hugo incorporated vocal samples (taken from news reports among other sources) into their performances, though both dancers and musicians are plenty emotive without the need of the samples.

If there was glitch at all in the show, it was that the dancers’ floor work was difficult to see for all but the front row of the audience. But this, and the transitions between floor and stage, will be worked out over time. The integration of aerials and dance is new territory; ground that Bromelia is capably and ingeniously exploring.

From start to finish, Jump Sessions was a visual and sonic feast, both exciting and inspiring. Catch the final show tonight at the Orange Peel. 7 p.m., $14 at the door. Photo by Michael Oppenheim


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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