Sequoia Criteser doesn’t just play with fire, she eats it too.
Criteser, 41, is the founder and director of Sacramento entertainment group Obsidian Butterfly whose acts range from fire eating and dancing, stilt walking, snake handling and unicycle riding.
Obsidian Butterfly, also known as Sacred Fire Dance, is set to celebrate its ninth annual Fire Spectacular on Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Land Park amphitheater.
Criteser, originally from Oregon, moved to Sacramento to further her skills in flow art entertainment. Before establishing Obsidian Butterfly in 2004, Criteser experimented with office jobs, massage therapy and yoga instructing.
“I was making decent money, but I was just super bored,” Criteser said. “I was smarter than what my skills were being used for and I decided I wanted to pursue something I was going to enjoy.”
Her talents stem from a combination of self-teaching and mentoring from the Fire Pixie company, a troop based in the Bay Area.
After years of performing in small art galleries in the Sacramento area, Criteser decided to form her own troop.
“I started teaching poi and attracting people that wanted to learn,” Criteser said. “There was this bridging of people that joined us and had skills and it kind of merged at that point.”
Audiences might not be able to tell, but Criteser and fire weren’t always a likely combination. Initially she learned with her own homemade poi, a performing style that involves swinging tethered weights.
It took time before Criteser warmed up to the flames. “I was petrified of fire and super cautious,” she said.
Criteser pushed herself to learn at the Sacramento lake where she was first handed a pair of fire poi, swinging tethered weights.
“We were like tadpoles; we started in the water then progressively moved to the land” before progressing to smaller events, she said.
Criteser found her connection with fire after receiving a pair of fire fans as a birthday gift from her boyfriend.
“Those were the wings and it seriously took off,” she said.
In 2008, Criteser received a partial grant from Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission which she put toward Obsidian Butterfly’s first Fire Spectacular.
Thirteen years later, she’s turned a soul-searching passion into a meaningful career.
“I never went into this looking forward with a business strategy,” she said. “I’ve just been following something within myself and it just keeps unfolding and that’s what I hope for.”
Obsidian Butterfly has 10 to 15 core members. Since many have day jobs, members alternate shows.
The group has performed at local California festivals, in Japan and most recently at the California State Fair. Criteser requires members to undergo extensive fire safety training before performing with the troupe.
“Anybody that comes into this company needs to demonstrate they’ve had fire training,” Criteser said. During shows she has a hired fire safety person on standby and keeps a fire extinguisher on hand in case venues fail to provide one.
The troop has been practicing since January for the Fire Spectacular, the sole festival it hosts. Saturday’s performance will feature fire fans, poi and staffs.
The ninth annual Fire Spectacular starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13. Doors open at 6 p.m.. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.