Public pyromania

The 10th annual Fire Spectacular proves that humans will always be mesmerized by flames.

The mood is laid-back inside the William A. Carroll Amphitheater. A woman on stage loops her flute riffs. A lone pagan dancer shrouded in shiny gold fabric leaps to and fro. A quartet takes to the stage, armed with a saxophone and a didgeridoo, and plays music that shouldn’t work but somehow does. Hippie jazz, I think. Dig it! Technically, the 10th annual Fire Spectacular has already started, but the evening is young.

About a dozen troupes dance with fire on August 12, and roughly 100 people congregate to watch them for $15 per adult. What started a decade ago as a loose collection of dancers exploring movement and performance art has blossomed into a full cast of talented artists working together, using fire as a means to connect to a deeper sense of self and to practice control and humility. Learning to feel comfortable with fire is learning to feel comfortable with oneself. Also, spinning fire looks really, really cool.

I amble over to the vegan food kiosk and order nachos. A stick-thin kid scoops a greenish muck into a tray: “That’s the nacho ‘meat,’” he says. I say thanks and sit, politely munching on my not-nachos while an Aztec dance troupe performs a sacred fire dance. They light a small flame at the front of the stage and dance around it. Fire!

At the front gates, a giant plume of flames shoots into the sky. A stocky man with a cigar has crashed the party with his own incendiary contraption: hot dogs on a wire. “Want a dog?” he calls to me, pulls a lever and sets fire to the sausages. He sticks one in a bun and thrusts it at me. I guiltily scarf it down, hoping the vegans aren’t watching.

Back at the amphitheater, night has come, and dancers are spinning orbs of fire. Unfortunately, the action feels too far away, causing a disconnect between the awe of fire play and the audience that wants to vicariously enjoy it.

The final act, Obsidian Butterfly seems to sense this disconnect, so they cavort among the people, swallowing flames and breathing billows of fire into the night sky. The crowd collectively sits taller, their eyes widening as they feel the heat on their faces. Obsidian Butterfly has everyone’s full attention.

I’m as rapt as everyone else. Obsidian’s boardwalk sideshow culminates into a cornucopia of lit lassos, hoops, fans, flame throwers, torches and Phoenix wings. It is a truly spectacular spectacle.

As the flames die out, the crowd cheers, and we are left again with the lonely dark. I make my way out of the gates, musing about the relationship we humans have with fire. We may have learned to use fire to our benefit, but it certainly holds a mythical power over us.

Behind me, a vegan is confronting the guy with the cigar setting hot dogs on fire. “Hot dogs are evil,” he says. I don’t hear how the cigar man responds. If he’s smart, he’ll blame the mysterious nature of the fire spirits.