With the clash of two flaming swords, a shower of bright sparks flew into the air as the audience burst into cheers. The fire performers leapt across the stage and tossed their swords towards each other in a fire sword battle, illuminating the night last Friday on the Pine Knoll Cluster.
“It was like something you see in the movies and not really in real life. It was pretty tense in some moments, but I was confident that they could do [the stunts] because they’ve been trained to do them. I was pretty impressed because I’ve never seen people do stuff like that before,” said Newaz Rahman ’20, an audience member.
This act was part of the Fire Show, featuring “A Different Spin,” a circus performance group donned in black costumes decorated with red flames juggling lit torches, marking their fourth time performing at Andover. The show featured performers who spun fire poi, which are flaming wicks attached by a string, and performed acrobatics and back-flips, among other stunts.
“[The show] is like every piece of live theater you have ever seen. Not only have we choreographed everything we do on stage, we have choreographed everything we do backstage, every prop we have to fuel, extinguish, every transition, every bit of it is choreographed,” said performer Tim Ellis.
About halfway through the show, the performers surprised the audience by asking faculty member Kevin Graber, Senior Associate Director of Admissions, to join him in the performance area. A performer then proceeded to juggle fire while standing on top of Graber’s shoulders.
“[That stunt] was a little bit staged. We had talked to him a little bit ahead of time. He did not really know what he was in for, but he did agree to be a part of it. We always have to be careful when we do shows like this, especially with the skills we’re doing out here, that for students we need legal consent, which is a little bit fuzzy. So at schools like [Andover], we have to get someone who is old enough, and usually it’s fun to bring up a faculty member that everyone already knows, so everyone gets on board,” said Ellis.
The troupe, most members having met in a juggling group at Vassar College in New York, has performed for ten years. The performers each showcase individual skills, which they combine in the circus acts. Although interacting closely with fire comes with a risk, the performers make sure to keep themselves and the audience safe by practicing extensively together.
“Obviously performing with fire is very dangerous, so we practiced a long time without fire. We honed our skills for a long time. Beyond that, one of the challenges I had was that I’m not a very musical person. I sort of have two left feet, but we end up doing a lot of fire choreography that involves moving together, moving to the beat, throwing things at very precise timing. Now it’s become second nature, and it’s very easy to do,” said troupe member Ricky Hawkins.
Prior to the performance, a workshop was hosted outside of Paresky Commons where the troupe instructed students and faculty children on how to use circus instruments such as the Chinese yo-yo, juggling sticks, hula hoops, and poi, which are tethered weights that are spun in circles to create an effect.
Hawkins said, “We wanted to bring some of our other circus skills to campus… Doing circus skills… and bringing the joy of circus to people is a lot of fun. We wanted more people to share and play around [with the circus instruments]. Really anyone can learn anything, it just needs a little bit of practice.”