Hot as heck
In the heat of wildfire season, concerned citizens driving by Moana Park on a midweek evening might be tempted to call the fire department about the billowing smoke and frenzied flames. Chances are, however, the fire department already knows about this fire.
Moana Park’s fields and asphalt serve as the summer practice space for Controlled Burn, a group that teaches and exhibits fire performance techniques. This year, as Controlled Burn marks its 10th anniversary, the group is preparing for its annual event, Compression! Art and Fire.
“Compression is the big one for us,” said Jenny Herz, long-time performer and executive director of the group. “It’s an all-day event, and it’s gotten bigger every year. We get more and more vendors, and our fire garden has gotten huge.”
Compression features a large stage at the Retrac Plaza and has warranted more and more street closures over the years to accommodate its growing “Fire Art Garden,” with large sculptures that often incorporate flame elements and entertainers that reflect Controlled Burn’s ties to Burning Man.
“The City of Reno in the past five years has really embraced Burning Man culture,” Herz said. “I get asked by some of the city officials and a lot of people to bring in different Burning Man components, like art cars or fire performers, stilters and aerialists—people that I know from Burning Man.”
Controlled Burn was “ignited” in 2000 with the specific purpose of dancing in Burning Man’s Great Circle, a ritual part of the festival where fire performers from all over the world dance around the base of The Man in the hours before it is burned. The performers in the Great Circle are collectively known as the Fire Conclave.
“The Fire Conclave is made up of groups that have submitted audition videos,” said organizer Brenda Ashworth.”
Controlled Burn accomplished its original intention and has danced with the Fire Conclave since 2000. In 2008, the group filed for nonprofit status. To continue to exist, they’ve had to jump through their fair share of legal hoops in addition to the flaming ones.
“All of us, as fire-performers, in order to do public events, we have to be registered with the state fire marshall’s office in Carson City,” said David Phebus, lead choreographer.
State registration is one of the compromises made between Controlled Burn and a sometimes-wary Fire Marshal’s office, but it’s group’s willingness to play by the rules has created more opportunities for local performances such as the Nevada Day Parade and an annual Halloween charity event at the Governor’s Mansion.
“We’re very safety conscious,” Phebus said. “We go through annual safety training where we teach about the types of fabrics and materials you can wear when you’re spinning fire. We actually do live put-outs—how to put out tools, how to do extinguishers.”
Group members have participated in legislative efforts governing fire performance instruction for the next generation of dancers. Currently, people of all ages may fire-dance, and performers and safety crewmembers are required to pay dues.
Controlled Burn, with its all-inclusive stance, encourages anyone with a burning passion to learn choreography and safety techniques to come by Moana Fields on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. for group rehearsal and Wednesdays at 6:00 p.m. for open classes.