By Chris Roberts
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
By Mike Billings
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
It is that socially awkward part of summer when dinnertime occurs during bright daylight hours and extravagant eveningwear appears gauche in the breach between car door and front door. But such is the price one must pay. The guests -- a stylish company of benefactors, donors, art lovers, and instructors -- use the glaring yellow sun to their advantage, carefully navigating the pitted dirt road that runs along the Crucible, a sprawling warehouse compound in the East Bay that provides classes and workshops for all fire-formed arts. Despite the clear, cerulean sky, which clashes unspeakably with the preferred palette of this evening's apparel (shades of crimson and red with hints of orange and yellow), the procession of beads, crepe, feathers, leather, chiffon, and velvet is lovely, and lovelier still given the juxtaposition of stark industrial buildings, train tracks, and gray smoke rising from a yard filled with scrap metal, rubble, and cement. Stepping through the cavernous loading dock that opens on the south end of the Crucible's foundry, return guests find that, in the year and a half since the Crucible's last Feast of Firebenefit, the facility has been expanded from 6,000 to 17,000 square feet, and it's still growing. Tonight's dinner will raise money for a silversmithing/jewelry studio and a neon shop as well as the expansion of the metal shop, the foundry, and the tool room, upgrades to the 1996 computer system, and the creation of a blocklong mural that will run down the Ashby side of the Crucible building in blazing color.
Elegant tables covered in flame-hued settings accented by flowers, candles, and dry ice sit inside the fabrication shop, where Crucible staff and volunteers typically fulfill the industrial commissions that help keep class tuition low. Tonight, the stern and fiery countenance of Kali stares down from the heights, overlooking polished cement floors, tinkling wineglasses, and a sunlit doorway that leads to a small gallery where Crucible artists are auctioning off their work. Near the rafters, on the gallery rooftop, DJ Vordo spins a Middle Eastern blend of electronic music that gives way to the harp playing of Erika Herren. Spiced chickpea crisps and Pacific Coast mussels steamed over pine needles are offered to conjure, through mastication, the Greek myth of Prometheus, who brought man the gift of fire hidden within a hollow stalk of fennel. Vulcan, a brawny, bespectacled man in a red toga with great burn "scars" running down his chest, strikes a bronze anvil that announces the opening of the silent art auction, which includes metal sculptures, jewelry, and a brilliant orange-yellow sun cast in lucent resin.
While plates of flame-licked grapes and grilled endive dripping with pomegranate vinaigrette fill the tables, multidisciplinary dance troupe Capacitorand belly-dancing troupe Ultra Gypsy take the stage, causing forks and voices to fall silent. Just as folks begin eating again, Elizabeth Moriartydraws a pale yellow snake, measuring almost 10 feet long, out of a deceptively small wicker basket; Shivaluna, as the serpent is named, circulates among patrons, looking for cuddles as blackened tuna, grilled summer vegetables, and chipotle mashed potatoes cool on the plates of those easily frightened by reptiles larger than themselves. A short time later, the D'Yara Balkan Choirand a Middle Eastern quartet called Lumin offer musical accompaniment for the devouring of chocolate fondue, fruit flambé, and devil's food petits fours that disappear as fire troupes Phoenix Rising and Pyrogeisttake to the stage in a dazzling display of whirling, blazing tomfoolery.
Outside, the sun is throwing a fire spectacle of its own, flooding the sky with magenta and crimson hues, spreading out over blocks of industrial concrete like a shimmering, macerated tangerine. Behind the Crucible, a giant dog sculpture created by Trisha Kynerand David Friedheim crouches against the brick building, looking to leap across the street into a pool of flame created by Kiki Pettit. Overhead, silhouetted against a pale sliver of a moon, hangs a small sculpture of Icarus fated to fly from the Crucible rooftop and crash in a fiery smoldering heap on the ground below. Near the entrance of Murray Street, a fire truck stands idly by, its red siren light whirling, a silent echo of a carousel-style sign that spins light into animated statements such as "Welcome to Crucible," "Feast of Fire," and "I'm losing my mind." Tendrils of cherry-red fiber optics begin to glow against smooth sheets of satin framing the entrance to the Garden of Fire, and here is where the real experience begins.
As night falls, the Garden -- composed of 20 large pieces set in "beds" designated by lavender strings of lights and tidy rows of cinder blocks -- begins to smolder. The Heart, a large viscera-shaped wood-burning stove created by Grant Irish, is stoked with logs, and a meandering couple sits down on a wrought-iron bench nearby, enjoying the flickering warmth. To the left, a small grove of copper trees, created by Dennis Baumand Kevin Gauna, shines with handblown-glass roses and bright green snow peas filled with glowing LEDs. The Amaranthus Pyrus, a dangerous-looking medieval lamp-like thing created by David Andres, suddenly erupts in a billow of green fire that cascades like water into a shallow brass dish. Andres' Triffids, two elegant spears of stainless steel and bronze, smolder and glow red-hot as blue flames flicker along their edges like feather halos. Blue fire coils around Thursus, flowing up and down the 6-foot steel wands and splashing across the ground. A fire roars inside the mammoth Heat Basket, woven from stainless steel and bronze by Orion Fredericks. A large shadow puppet dances along the edge of the fence, shaking its beastie fist in the moonlight.
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