Sodexo caterer brings Festival of Fire to campus green

Students walking by the campus green on Saturday night, March 18, were treated to a fire spinning show by local fire artists.

The Festival of Fire, organized by Sodexo caterer Carl Allen, featured a group of performers from the local group Last Ember who lit nunchucks, poles, chains and hula hoops on fire and spun them in choreographed and freestyle movements.

Allen, who participated in the performance, has been practicing nunchucks for nearly a decade and fire spinning for five years. He said the idea for the event came about after seeing students enjoying the snow on the green.

“I had seen all the attempts at building snowmen and all the snowmen that are out there,” Allen said. “One night, I was getting done after having a catering event, and I was like, ‘I wonder if I could just show up here in the middle of the night and spin nunchucks on fire.’”

After getting the necessary safety approval, he expanded his scope and organized a full festival.

The event started at sundown, with a crowd forming on the snow-covered green. With hot chocolate and a bonfire to keep the audience warm, the performers readied their equipment and a fire safety expert prepared for the show.

The action started with one performer spinning a staff with two wheels of fire on each end. A percussionist playing a hand drum backed up the performers throughout the night with a rhythmic beat that got louder with the action.

More performers joined in while others stepped out. Following the first act, two members of the group performed choreographed routines featuring metallic fans with multiple flames on the ends and a hoop with fire along the outside.

Other fire artists who performed swung flaming chains, twirled staves with fire on both ends and threw their gear in the air. Allen’s performance included spinning a pair of nunchucks and whirling a staff.

Allen said fire spinning fills a meditative purpose while also giving an adrenaline rush.

“It’s a good, fun thing that you kind of just dive into,” Allen said. “When you’ve practiced enough, just like a musician, you kind of already know what you’re getting into, and it just flows when you’re there. You put the blinders on, and it’s a meditative state.”

Senior Madi Hop, who attended the event, said she was impressed by the skills displayed by Allen and the other artists.

“I really liked the crew that came — all of the performers,” Hop said.

In addition to the group of community members and students who gathered on the campus green to watch the performance, many students from Wagoner Hall looked out of their windows to see the action. Other students walking by stopped for a few moments to watch.

While Allen said the cold made it hard to gather the size of crowd he was hoping for, he was happy that students got to experience the event in whatever way possible.

“Sometimes that’s all that it takes to spark interest,” Allen said. “Sometimes we don’t either have the opportunity to go and see something that is inspirational or inspires ideas, and a lot of times we’re not searching for it on our own just because we kind of get comfortable with what we’re used to.”

According to Allen, this event served as a proof of concept, and he said he hopes to integrate fire spinning into other events on campus in the future.

“How many more people who’ve never experienced this could we introduce this to?” Allen said. “A lot of ‘What could the next show look like?’ is what I leave with.”

Hop said she appreciated the unique nature of the event and hopes that it can happen more often going forward.

“I really liked that it was out of the box, which was kind of why I wanted to go to it,” Hop said. “I’ve seen so many comedians in the Back Alley. I want something new at this point.”

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