Flight club

Something in the air: Pawtooth's grooves sit somewhere between Blondie, The Stooges and Siouxsie and the Banshees — and Bromelia Aerial Dance Collective plans to perform to that soundtrack. Photo by Duncan Chaboudy

Local aerialists and rockers team up for a production

An unlikely collaboration was forged in January, when Bromelia Aerial Dance Collective performed at the Mothlight as part of the Asheville Fringe Arts Festival. According to local movement artist Anna Bartlett, “One of our dancers was injured, and our friend Valerie Phillips saved the day by quickly learning the choreography and performing. Valerie’s husband, Justin [Lee, bassist for power-pop-punk outfit Pawtooth], came to the show. He was blown away, and we started talking about performing with his band.”

Lee and Pawtooth were surprised and flattered to learn the aerialists were even interested. The rhythms and soundscapes Pawtooth creates aren’t the sort of languid, dramatic creations one might typically associate with twisting around aerial silks and rings. But the jutted edges of Pawtooth’s rock songs are no less danceable. The group’s grooves sit somewhere between Blondie, The Stooges and Siouxsie and the Banshees, ensuring that whatever does happen in midair — on Thursday, May 15, at The Mothlight — will be lively and memorable.

That show, the culmination of the unexpected mashup, will also introduce the world to brand-new material from Pawtooth. In addition to the added artistry of a guest cellist, the band’s collaboration with the dancers was intended to be part of a larger release party for its third album, Arcadian Playground. Unfortunately, the recordings won’t make it back from the printer in time (a release show is already being planned for later in the summer), but that won’t stop the band from rocking the heck out of some new material.

Bromelia Press Photo 2
Air apparent: Members of Bromelia return to The Mothlight where they performed earlier this year as part of Asheville Fringe Arts Festival. Photo by Michael Oppenheim


To prepare, the Asheville-based band handed Bartlett and the other dancers a recording of nine tracks, suggesting they select five or six during which they’d like to perform. Pawtooth, meanwhile, has been rehearsing through two sets-worth of itsbest old and new songs. In rehearsal, the band divides its time between a basement practice space where all their “real” instruments live, and frontwoman Penelope Zing’s backyard music shed, where they keep an electric drum kit (to control the volume) and some backup instruments.  A woodcarving of a flying Isis dangles from the ceiling over where Zing stands to hone her mic skills: proof that the notion of being airborne is no new thing to Pawtooth.

On any given night when the band gets together for a jam, things can get silly. “They’ll start firing [up their instruments],” says Zing. “[Guitarist Dee Wulf] records everything, and then we can go back and figure out what we like. Songs can come out of a five- or 12-minute jam. A whole song could be in there sometimes, and we’ll pull out our favorite parts. We’re pretty hyper: [We do the] high-energy power-pop thing without [so much] thrash and aggression going on.”

Bromelia typically handles show development with comparable intense focus, but the Pawtooth collaboration seemed to Bartlett like a good excuse to step outside of that comfort zone, in more ways than one. “In the past, [we have] exclusively performed fully choreographed pieces that integrate modern dance floor work and aerial arts,” she says. “This show, on the other hand, will consist of improvised solos that are fully in the air and showcase our favorite aerial skills.”

The members of Bromelia taking part in this performance have danced at the Mothlight before. Previous performances at the Jewish Community Center allowed them to get much farther into the air, but the Mothlight’s large, solid ceiling beams offer incredible support for aerialist infrastructure. Besides, after the Bromelia performance there in January, the Mothlight crew feels comfortable and familiar with that kind of show — something not a lot of bars in town can claim.

“You could do it at Toy Boat,” says Wulf. “[Or at the] Orange Peel, but that’s a big club. At the Mothlight, there’s enough space, and I like the fact that it’s not new to them. They’ve done this. They don’t have the foreign sense that this is the first time. They’ve been really cool about it.”

Meanwhile, Pawtooth is just looking forward to what kinds of maneuvers the dancers pull off to its songs. “I’ll just be interested to see how the silk artists do with our tempos,” Zing says. “It’ll be cool to see how they work all that out.”


Pawtooth with members of Bromelia Aerial Dance Collective


The Mothlight, themothlight.com


Thursday, May 15, at 9:30 p.m. $5

About Kim Ruehl
Kim Ruehl's work has appeared in Billboard, NPR Music, The Bluegrass Situation, Yes magazine, and elsewhere. She's formerly the editor-in-chief of No Depression, and her book, 'A Singing Army: The Life and Times of Zilphia Horton,' is forthcoming from University of Texas Press. Follow me @kimruehl

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