Fantastic Flame 

The Sonoran Glass Art Academy's Flame Off!

The Sonoran Glass Art Academy is heating up for its 10th annual Flame Off!, on Friday, Feb. 3, at the Rialto Theatre. The fiery event features local music, food and drink, dancers and two glass-making competitions featuring 24 artists.

"We time this every year with the Gem Show, because a lot of people are coming in (to Tucson) for that already," said Alexandra Berger, associate director of the academy. "This year, we're trying to appeal to the Tucson community a little bit more, rather than specifically people who know about glass."

The Flame Off! catches fire with a performance by a troupe of hula-hoop dancers called Orbital Evolution. The first competition starts at 7 p.m., when 12 artists will have one hour to address the theme of "Fantasy of Fire."

"Some people are doing dragons; some people are going more space-themed." Berger said. "Ultimately, we'll have three winners chosen by popular vote."

Cabaret-dancing and a fire-dance group, Elemental Artistry, are on tap between the competitions. In the second contest, four teams of three artists will have two hours to fashion a work that fits the theme of "Light vs. Dark."

"(There's a) cool range of projects that they're planning on making, and some prep work is allowed," Berger explained. "We're hoping they're going to make really large, impressive pieces."

The night will end with a performance by a local band appropriately named 8 Minutes to Burn.

"We're going to have videographers there who will be projecting what you're watching on to a large projector screen so people can really see up-close," Berger said. "A lot of (the competition) is detail-oriented, and we want people to see really well what's going on."

Some of the 24 competing artists are from Tucson; others are from across the United States; one is even from Japan. Many are veterans of past competitions who have supported the Flame Off! for years. This year, about 10 artists are new to the competition.

After the creations are made during the Flame Off!, bidding on the works of art will begin. Winning bids typically range from about $60 to $600. "All of these pieces are unique and never before seen," Berger said.

Not all of the pieces will be completed at the competition; some will need to spend time in a kiln or be assembled on a base. Once the finishing touches are completed, the pieces will be displayed at the Best Bead Show, 2805 E. Ajo Way, one of the many gem-and-mineral shows being held in Tucson now.

The Flame Off! began as a fairly intimate event, when it was held at a downtown studio. It moved to the Sonoran Glass Art Academy for several years, and then was held at various locations. It is at the Rialto Theatre—inside and outside—this year for the first time.

Berger said previous Flame Off! events have attracted 500 to 600 people. This year, organizers are hoping for 1,000. "This is a really great event that brings glass artists from all over the world to support the school," Berger said.

Proceeds from the event will help fund the nonprofit Sonoran Glass Art Academy, which offers classes for students as young as 5. Classes are available in furnace-glass-blowing, flame-working, fusing, kiln-casting, mosaic and stained glass.

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