The Crucible’s 7th Annual Fire Arts Festival set West Oakland ablaze and transformed the vacant lot at Kirkham St. and 7th St. into a Fire Arts Arena with a four-day run from Wednesday, July 11th, to Saturday, July 14th, 2007.

Designed and produced by The Crucible’s Founder and Executive Director, Michael Sturtz, the annual celebration of fire and light featured an amazing cast of dancers and performers reflecting the diversity of the Bay Area’s arts community — from classically trained ballet dancers to hip-hop artists, musicians, outrageous fire artists and performers, and The Crucible’s own faculty of blacksmiths, metal casters, and glassworkers.

The festival showcased kinetic and fire art pieces, with over 30 installation artists contributing to the event’s success. Many of the kinetic fire sculptures, like the 168-foot long Serpent Mother, created by arts collective The Flaming Lotus Girls, which encouraged hands-on participation like controlling propane jets. Another interactive display, Dance Dance Immolation, by Interpretive Arson, challenged participants to match on-screen dance steps – with the penalty for a misstep being a blast of fire to the face (fortunately dancers were suited up in Nomex firefighter suits prior to testing their skills).

The Fire Odyssey

Ever raising the bar for “flameboyance,” this year Michael Sturtz added something new: The Fire Odyssey, an 11-act modernized interpretation of Homer’s epic poem, performed nightly. Blending industrial fire theatre with ballet, opera, hip hop, aerial dance, fire performance and more, The Fire Odyssey brought together an amazing cast of internationally recognized dancers and performers to create one of the most technically ambitious and visually stunning productions seen in the Bay Area.

Opera singer Aimee Puentes sang the role of Penelope, and Easton Smith, who played Romeo in The Crucible’s production of Romeo & Juliet—A Fire Ballet, returned as Odysseus. Mongolian contortionist Byamba Serchmaa played Circe, who tried to seduce Odysseus; members of the renowned hip-hop troupe Flavor Group played Odysseus’ men. The acrobatic team of Realis, made up of gold medalists and world champion gymnasts Shenea Booth and Arthur Davis, performed the production’s amazing finale, with original live music provided by Mark Growden and a hand-picked ensemble.

The saga of Odysseus took place on an enormous 58 foot wide stage, complete with a thousand-gallon “sea;” a colossal Rube Goldberg style system of stairs, ramps and chutes; and four gigantic Greek gods, personified as 35-foot-tall welded sculptures by Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito, which interacted with the human performers. Recreating the elements of water, wind, fire, steam and light required a massive production crew, and included members from the Oakland Fire Department and Kinetic Steam Works.

The Odyssey tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus and his long journey home following the fall of Troy. Odysseus and his crew are both protected and besieged by the gods throughout their voyage. Athena, goddess of wisdom and fire, protects them, but Poseidon, god of the sea, sends a storm to put them off course and into a confrontation with his son, the Cyclops (played by Jonathan Youtt in an 11-foot tall puppet suit). Aeolus, god of the wind, assists Odysseus by giving him the gift of the wind, but his crew squander the gift and become entranced by the witch-goddess Circe until Hermes, messenger of the gods (portrayed by aerialist Benn Mendoza), provide a potion that frees Odysseus from her spell. The travelers continue on their journey, narrowly escaping the underworld and an encounter with the Sirens (performed by The Neykia). With Athena’s continued aid, Odysseus finally arrives home and is reunited with the loyal Penelope.

As part of their commitment to the West Oakland community, The Crucible provided 600 complimentary tickets to youth and adult members of its community, making good on their commitment to make art accessible to all. And on the last night of the Fire Arts Festival, a special benefit fundraiser, Fire & Light Art Auction Soirée, was held to further benefit the arts and community programs at The Crucible. Donors attending the Fire & Light Art Auction Soirée enjoyed fine wines and fiery appetizers, dined among flaming sculptures while aerial dancers performed overhead, and bid on extraordinary art at the annual art auction.

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