Fire Fest to Erupt in Oakland

Fire dancers and fire eaters, along with fire and electric sculptures, will light up West Oakland's sky at the fifth annual Fire Arts Festival from July 12 to 17.

Fire dancers and fire eaters, along with fire and electric sculptures, will light up West Oakland's sky at the fifth annual Fire Arts Festival from July 12 to 17.

With performers such as Dr. Megavolt, The Flaming Lotus Girls and Capacitor, this is no ordinary summer arts festival, but a spectacle of controlled burns, explosions and channeled electrical beauty, which puts the natural elements of fire and electricity on display in artistic ways.

"It's a vibrant way to support and showcase the fire arts," said Michael Sturtz, the executive director and founder of The Crucible, the organizer and host of the festival.

The Fire Arts Festival will take place at The Crucible's 48,000-square-foot industrial arts facility and nearby outdoor arena in West Oakland. In addition to the fire performances, there will be a full program of arts and educational events throughout six days and four evenings, including lectures, classes, artist talks and arts demonstrations.

The Crucible is a nonprofit educational collaboration of arts, industry and community, which Sturtz and others founded in 1999 in Berkeley. It features everything from cast iron to neon, large-scale public art to precise kinetic sculpture.

At their first fire festival in 2004, The Flaming Lotus Girls unveiled the "Seven Sisters," a large sheet metal representation of the Pleiades star cluster, including three round stars and three seven-pointed stars that rotated and consisted of liquid fuel and propane flame effects.

Formed in 2000, The Flaming Lotus Girls are a San Francisco-based group of mostly female artists who create fire art and provide a resource for learning metalworking and other essential shop skills. "We've trained ourselves and learned by doing," said founding member Tamara Li.

Their first small installation was the original Flaming Lotus -- a sculptural fire cannon that gave the group its name -- at the 2000 Burning Man Festival. For 2005, The Flaming Lotus Girls will bring parts of their work in progress for Burning Man -- the "Angel of the Apocalypse," a giant sculptural environment that rises from the ground in the form of a bird. They'll bring two eight-foot feathers from the inner wing of the piece, which are welded sheet metal cut with three sides to them like a claw. The completed piece for Burning Man in August will have a head that's 15 feet high, some wings that reach out 20 feet, and a 30-foot-long driftwood body.

"The two feathers will have ambient flame with a special incendiary surprise for participants," said Li. Sturtz has asked them to also bring "The Hand of God," a 13-foot-tall copper hand, which shoots flames 150 feet in the air out of its fingertips. It was built for the 2003 Burning Man. "It's never been used within city limits except to be tested with water. We're hoping to get permission to use it from the fire department," said Li.

When asked why the group works with fire, she replied, "It serves our pyromaniac tendencies."

Most everything The Crucible does or sponsors is unique and attracts crowds, like moths to a flame, including the successful staging of a fire opera in 2004. Sturtz and company mounted a production of Henry Purcell's 17th century work "Dido and Aeneas," which included singers from the San Francisco Opera and orchestra members from the San Francisco Bach Soloists. It featured molten metal casting, glowing hot glasswork, welding, torch cutting, fire eating and fire dancing -- not things usually seen in an opera. Its two performances and dress rehearsal were sold out. "We turned away 800 people at the door," said Sturtz.

Another returning performer to the festival is Kristina Cañizares, who, along with her dance group, The Nekyia, will debut their performance dedicated to the Orisha Oshun, goddess of sweet water, honey, dance and femininity. It's a celebration of woman in all her myriad expressions and will include fire props such as propane-powered peacock tails with flames instead of feathers coming out of the dancer's hips, and music that features traditional rhythms and instrumentation, said Cañizares. Her original dance will combine Brazilian, Cuban, Middle Eastern, North African and modern movements. She also teaches fire-eating classes at The Crucible, and danced in its fire opera.

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