A Smoking Opera

The story of the Crucible is a bit like an urban fairy tale. In 1999, it opened its first class with a paltry $1,750 grant and staged the earliest Fire Arts Festival. From that magic seed grew more than 40 youth classes (including the first hyphy bike workshop), several massive fire operas, a ballet or two, and enough Oakland acreage to accommodate a two-story cephalopodlike cyclops as well as a sprawling, blaze-armored dragon. This year’s festival will encompass three times as much space for the fire sculptures, and offer the world premiere of Dan Cantrell’s The Rootabaga Opera, based on the truly magical Rootabaga Stories. The original children’s tales, written by Carl Sandburg, were set among the skyscrapers and train yards of early-19th-century America. Instead of a pure-hearted knight, Sandburg offered the Potato Face Blind Man, an old accordion player from the Village of Liver-and-Onions, who hung out in front of the post office “with his eyes never looking out and always searching in.” Cantrell, who composes award-winning soundtracks and plays accordion, saw, and piano for the likes of Tom Waits, seems to have a natural affinity for such characters. He promises to bring Sandburg’s whimsical world to life by weaving dance, fire arts, and theater through the musical strains of turn-of-the-20th-century immigrants.
July 15-17, 8 p.m., 2009

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