Fire fest

Fire Performer, Dominic Del Signore, executes a performance on the Cyr Wheel at a past Telluride Fire Festival (Photo courtesy of Scott London/Telluride Fire Festival) 

This weekend, warm flames will dance throughout the box canyon. The fire does not pose a threat, but instead presents people the opportunity to see a unique form of art. Incendiary events and workshops that comprise the seventh annual Fire Festival take place Friday through Sunday in various locations throughout town.

The festival was sparked seven years ago by co-founders Erin Ries and Chris Myers, who run the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Arts. The two were inspired after attending Burning Man, a festival renowned for flammable art and self-expression in the Nevada desert that attracts thousands each year.

"We thought, wow, this is something that we should bring back to Telluride. We just felt like we needed to support artists and promote this unique art form. That's how it all began," said Ries.

This year, the festival is "reimagined." On Friday, there will be a "Radiant Revival" show at the Palm Theatre. The show will feature dancers from Telluride and Boulder and performers from the Homestead Circus Productions out of Paonia, Colorado. The show will be "a circus and dance experience," as described in a press release.

Saturday, an event called "Resurrection" will be held 700 feet past Pandora Mill on Highway 145 in the county’s east end. This will be the first time Fire Fest has held an event at this location. A free Telluride Express shuttle will be stationed at the county courthouse to transport attendees every 10 minutes. The event is also the first time that three past festival events will be merged into one. Resurrection combines multiple art and fire performances (previously held as separate events) into one giant block party.

The party will include wooden sculptures, some reaching heights of over 20 feet, that will be burned to the ground. Propane flame sculptures will also be featured. The propane sculptures do not burn but rather use fire as a permanent artistic fixture.

Artist and builder Niel Ringstad is constructing a burn sculpture titled "Roman Needles" for Saturday. He said the art will be easier to transport than in past years when events were held up on the ski area.

"In previous years, this was even more complicated as we had to get the structure up the ski hill on vehicles and snowcats and then be able to erect it by hand at night in the cold, as we aren't allowed to do it on the ski hill during the day. The new site this year allows us more choices with the ability to use equipment such as cranes or forklifts to erect," said Ringstad.  

The propane flame cat sculpture aptly named "Fiery Fluffy," built by teens in the nonprofit True North Program, will also make an appearance Saturday.

Like most every festival, Fire Festival organizers have strived to create a COVID-19-safe environment and are working with restrictions set by public health officials. Ries and Myers decided to call the event Resurrection because it symbolizes perseverance through hard times and being resurrected from "a dark place."

"It had so much innuendo and meaning. We're coming back. We're going to make it through. Did anybody think the pandemic would be two years? I didn't, but here we are," Ries said.

The fire festival is a passion project for both Ries and Myers. Ries has lived in Telluride for the past 30 years and works full-time in advertising. The community and local government have played vital roles in the formation and continuation of the festival. After their initial venue for the Resurrection fell through two weeks ago, the "county came together to help us put the event on the road," explained Ries.

Fire art and performance require not only a tremendous amount of skill and dedication to the craft but also a lot of caution and preparation to foster a safe environment. Organizers must receive an open burn permit from the county.  Eight years ago, this type of permit would have been impossible to obtain; however, before the first Fire Festival seven years ago, the Board of County Commissioners amended the burn amendment so the festival could take place, explained Ries.

Ries also emphasized bringing local artists and businesses together for the festival, like Tree Dawn Priest, who owns Night Circus Lighting Company.

She will make "the event magical with her lighting," Ries said. Priest will light both the Palm Theatre on Friday and the Resurrection event. Priest has helped light the festival since the beginning and loves the creative challenge the event poses.

"The fire creates light and warmth, so I don't have to light the performers' faces like I normally do. I do the ambient lighting, the sculptures and light the paths in creative ways. This year I am going to be lighting the mountains on Saturday night," said Priest.

Free workshops for the community including juggling, clowning, and stilt-walking will be held Saturday and Sunday at the Wilkinson Public Library. Advance reservation is recommended.

Ries encouraged attendees to dress up and completely immerse themselves in the events, especially the Resurrection.

"We invite people to be a part of the art and participate," Ries stated.

She hopes people will walk away with a sense of "euphoria" once they've seen "the endless possibilities of art."

Fire performer, Maciej Mrotek, has been performing at the festival since it began and is excited to return.

"This event is such a unique experience,” he said. “I plan my entire year around it, and I wouldn't miss it."

For a complete schedule, more information, and to purchase tickets, visit telluridefirefestival.org.