Performer gives new meaning to flame thrower

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— Michael Moss, fire artist and performer, has a scheme.

It's called "Santa Rampage."

He wants to organize a group of people to dress like Santa Claus and raid all the clubs in town.

He came up with it while sitting at his dinner table this week. Moss' eyes widened in delight with the thought of the red suits herding into the bars.

"That would be the craziest thing," he said, "to have a bunch of Santas go from bar to bar."

He laughed and then sighed.

"That would be funny."

But it's more than a good laugh. It's an example of Moss' idea of performance art. It's an extension of a theory, almost a mission, he pursues.

Moss, 34, spins fire spinning flames on two ball-and-rope tools. It's technically known as spinning poi, which comes from New Zealand and simply means "ball on string." He pops up around town at functions and parties spinning poi.

But being a performer alone on a stage, disconnected from the audience, is exactly what Moss isn't.

"My form of self-expression is to bring people together to play," he said. "That's how I see my fire spinning."

Moss is an artist whose art is to get people to act creatively and smile.

Not everyone can paint, sculpt, act or play music. But everyone can embrace creativity every now and then, one way or another, whether that means learning to do fire art starting without fire, of course dancing, dressing in costume or anything that will make people smile.

"How can we live as creatively and free as possible, and have it be fun and safe?" he rhetorically asked, explaining his lifestyle.

"Act creatively," Moss said, and his lifestyle is to be the catalyst for that behavior.

Moss organizes costume and theme parties, encouraging people to step out of their normal role in society and act like someone else for a while. The idea is public participation in a performance art piece.

"If you dress like a pirate, then you're living the pirate life for a couple of hours," Moss said. "I think it's really refreshing to the soul."

Moss also teaches fire spinning to anyone who wants to learn. He has started a fire performance troupe, called Highfire, and members perform at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, usually with an African drum troupe called Kanni Ko!

At times, he can push the envelope for some people's tastes. For example, Highfire usually performs in the nude at the hot springs. During high tourist season, sometimes that doesn't go over too well.

Moss said shedding clothes adds an element of danger to the fire work he also lights himself on fire during the performances.

"When I take off my clothes, it's not for people to look at my body," he said.

Actually, most people forget that the fire spinners are naked once the flames start twirling.

"People are transfixed by the flames," he said.

So is Moss. He learned to spin fire from his younger sister, Maria, starting out by spinning glow sticks on a string.

"I just kept practicing and I kept doing my research," he said.

Moss researched different moves of the ancient art of spinning poi and made his own equipment.

When he lit his first poi he was seriously hooked. Once he started performing, Moss realized it was an art that many different people are interested in and want to try.

"They range from hippie 20-somethings to professionals," he said.

Deep down, Moss is a teacher. He started teaching people the fire art. Some of his apprentices perform in Highfire.

That reflects the broader purpose of his art.

"I just got totally sucked in to living my life the way I wanted through my own self-expression," Moss said.

Through that was a discovery of the joy and art of letting loose and having a good time.

For some people, that could mean dressing up like Santa Claus, just to make everyone laugh.

"If we could stop people and make them laugh," he said, "then we've done our job."

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