Hot love

By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  October 27, 2008

Money to burn
Although Boston’s fire-arts community has yet to explode into a full-fledged blaze, it, like other local artistic microcosms, boasts a small but thriving galaxy of devotees like Bennett and Dominique Immora, who are unfettered by logistical obstacles. “It’s one of the best spinning communities I’ve come across,” says Eliza Blaze (her stage name), 20, an MFA School student and one of Boston Common’s “living statues,” whose dizzying performance-artist repertoire includes such circus arts as aerial dance, and poi, fan, and baton spinning. Boston’s is “the most kooky, the most organized. The fact that the community is cohesive has really helped in presenting us to the public as responsible professionals. Spinning is seen as very much a daredevil thing, but it’s not. There is an element of danger because you’re lighting things on fire, but, for me, it’s not about the tension of potentially getting hurt — it’s about the beauty of the movement.”

(For all the safety talk and nonchalant rejection of hopelessly square labels like “daredevil,” fire spinning is not without its risks. Dominique Immora, for example, developed a small chemical burn from “eating” fire. The burn lasted for two years. The fire eating, needless to say, didn’t last for much longer.)

“Being able to manipulate fire in a way that creates art is very attractive to me,” says Michelle Jeffalone, fire-spinner extraordinaire and owner of Boston-based fire-arts entertainment company Poi Star Fire Productions. “I think that we all have some primal instinct in us that means we like to watch fire, whether it’s a campfire, a back-yard barbecue, or someone spinning, making these wonderful little works of art with the fire.”

One might describe Poi Star as a fire conglomerate, if the word “conglomerate” weren’t automatically associated with fiscally carnivorous corporations, such as, oh, I don’t know, the ones currently causing the downfall of the US economy. It’s one of a growing community of local entertainment companies that provide full-service fire-arts performances to mainstream events. Want to see your shitfaced bridesmaids startled into sobriety at the crack of a fire whip? Off-key Torah readings not snazzy enough for Little Ari’s bar mitzvah?

Companies like Poi Star are, as with any other entertainment company, straddling that malleable line between “art” and what some people call “selling out.” (Those accusations are generally made by hipsters living in Allston roach motels who try to glamorize their abject poverty by canonizing themselves with labels like “freegan.”) Bringing a seductive, daring art form to Grandma’s 80th birthday party might seem a little glib, but why? Why is there a mentality that family-friendly equals lame equals the anti-art?

“Honestly, I can’t see that there’s any problem with poi becoming part of popular culture,” says Papa. “I think it’s commendable that people want to learn about another culture, even if they don’t realize that they’re doing it. I would challenge anyone who does fire poi to actually be able to tell me the history of the poi, rather than just pick up a ball on a string, set it on fire, and swing it around. But I think it’s great for Maori culture, because it keeps it alive in different ways.”

“[Fire spinning] is starting to invade popular culture,” says Crimson Rose. “Cirque du Soleil uses it in their art. As fire arts become a cultural focal point, people are starting to incorporate it into mainstream venues. And I actually think it’s really exciting. Certainly some people will run with it, and make money, and I think that’s totally fine. I see it as a positive outlet.”

Sara Faith Alterman don’t need no water, let the motha-effa burn. She can be reached at salterman@phx.com.

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