Tucson Q&A with Todd Bedinotti

T Q&A 

Business success left Todd Bedinotti, 39, with tons of free time, so he filled the hours with creative passions he neglected while launching his career. Among these pursuits is fire performance, which he and eight other artists have parlayed into a newly formed troupe called Elemental Artistry. Group members often use instruments called poi, or two globes of fire attached by a chain, that they twirl about their bodies with mesmerizing effect. The troupe also incorporates elements of dance and theater, and is available for hire at everything from company picnics to weddings to nightclubs. For more information, visit the troupe's Web site at www.elemental-artistry.com.

Where did you get the idea to do fire performances?

Two years ago, my wife and I went to (the) Burning Man (Festival) up in Nevada. There are probably several hundred of the best fire performers in the nation up there. ... It's just amazing, the hypnotic hand movements. One of (the performers was) ... camping near us; I went over and asked her to show me some moves. She gave me a couple of quick demonstrations. Then I came home, made a poi out of small dog-chain leashes and made little tennis balls and just sat there and practiced and practiced in the living room.

What are some of the tools you use?

There are tons of different art forms. There are poi. They're a bit dangerous in that they can wrap around your wrist or wrap around your arm and stuff. There's the staff. If you go to Hawaii, and they have luau nights; they do the staff. But then there's everything from whips, hula hoops (to) jump ropes. We have a little motto: If you love something, set it on fire.

Tell me about the theater aspects of the performances.

We came up with a whole act called "Le Fondue Flambé." It's actually (troupe member) Mariah (Freark) and myself. She's in what looks like a big prom dress, and I'm in a black suit. And one of the other performers looks like she's just out of some French café with the black and white stripes. So she comes out with a tray and seats us, and there's a little fondue pot and everything. ... Well, the whole meal is done with fire. ... It adds theatrics to a basic thing--fire-eating.

Have you ever hurt yourself?

Usually, I have a burn somewhere--but not badly. You get just these little surface burns. They go away. ... Fire-eating, you tend to blister your lips. The worst I've seen is that one of the girls got (the poi) wrapped (around her arm). It was a pretty nice little burn that got blistered up, and in a week, it was gone.

Your Web site has tutorials on it. Do people contact you to learn how to spin fire?

Our site is only two months old. For the month of August--what are we, like, almost midway through?--we exceeded all of last month's hits. ... Last month, we had people from Mexico, Canada, the Seychelles, Spain, the U.K. and Germany downloading videos.

Do you give lessons?

We actually have two sides. We have Elemental Artistry, and then we have the Spin Syndicate. ... That's pretty much an open spin. And that's where anybody can come. Basically, you share ideas. Everybody kind of creatively comes up with new moves. No matter what level you're at, there is always a trick somebody else knows that you just don't know or haven't been able to figure out yet.

Are there any open spins planned soon?

You know, most people want to be able to light up. Some people do open spins, and they don't get to use fire. We want to make sure we can. We're just finalizing some arrangements for a place that's on 22nd (Street) and Euclid (Avenue), and we're hoping we get the approval to be able to perform there. That's the hardest part--where do you do this? You gotta be able to have it so that pretty much anybody can show up. You need a big enough space, and there can't be anything around that's flammable. We're pursuing that.

Sounds kind of dangerous. Will people have to sign a release?

Yes, everybody has to sign a release. It's actually very safe. There are two 11-year-old girls who I've taught right in the neighborhood here. One of the more-or-less honorary members--he's actually our nephew--I taught him when he was 13. Right now, he's 14. But just last month, he performed in front of the Illuminaries Festival--he's up in Vancouver--in front of between 3,000-5,000 spectators. I mean, he's 14 years old, and he spun fire and the whole thing ... There's always something to new to learn, and you constantly improve upon yourself.

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