A circus life: Grand Valley performers find fellowship with fire dancing | PostIndependent.com

A circus life: Grand Valley performers find fellowship with fire dancing

Illumicirque's Heidi Bassignani performs in costume at a recent troupe practice at her family farm in Whitewater, Colo.
Mary Hockenbery |


To the excitement of troupe members, Grand Junction’s Illumicirque won the Colorado You Got Talent contest in October 2013.

“That was an amazing experience,” Illumicirque member Nathan Watchman said.

According to Illumicirque organizer and choreographer Heidi Bassignani, the process took “pretty much all year,” and the finals were held in Colorado Springs, Colo. First, they sent in an audition video, then a second semi-finals video when they progressed to the next round.

“Eight of us did the finals,” performing a piece that was just a few minutes long, she added.

The Colorado You Got Talent competition is heading into its fifth season, and executive director Mattie Peltier said Illumicirque won in 2013 due to their “incredible” stage presence and beautiful costumes.

“You couldn’t take your eyes off them,” Peltier said. “It was compelling to watch.”

She also noted an “incredible amount of respect” for the group’s professional, kind mentality.

When asked why she continues to perform, Bassignani said: “Fire and circus performance gives people a look outside the daily routine and the daily grind. By spreading creativity and art, I want to make the world a better place. And it’s fun. I like to make people smile.”

To watch their You Got Talent audition video, head to YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKdTCQ17cDM. To view their semi-finals video, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z7JRyXmTFU.

— Caitlin Row, Free Press community editor

In 2010, Hotchkiss photographer Mary Hockenbery found her muse.

Illumicirque — a fire/circus performance group started four years ago by Whitewater residents, Heidi and Will Bassignani — regularly engages Hockenbery’s imagination (and her camera).

Made up of performers from around western Colorado, the troupe includes fire dancers, fire eaters, jugglers, stilt walkers, clowns, belly dancers, a gymnast, costumers, and more. Illumicirque is also the subject of many photographs by Hockenbery, who often travels to work with the group with the thought that she’ll someday make a book about them.

“I just love them,” Hockenbery said. “They’re acting out mythology right before our eyes. They touch on dreams; it’s really deep. And they’re amazingly professional.”

Illumicirque is known for vibrant, fire-dance based performances, colorful costumes and thematic (often electronic) music. Heidi Bassignani is the group’s main choreographer, and she plans routines to compliment venues. She’s also a performer — focused in dance and fire fans, while delving into other fire-based props.

“The music changes, so it stays interesting for us,” she said at a recent Illumicirque practice at her Kannah Creek Farm in Whitewater, Colo. They bought the land three years ago, and they’ve been building the farm ever since.

“We are both artists and work on our 20-acre sustainable farm, growing alfalfa, fruit and veggies, and raising chickens, horses and eventually dairy goats,” Bassignani, a Grand Junction native, said. “I am a Web designer and dance teacher. Will is a builder and contractor.”

Members of Illumicirque come from all over the Western Slope, spanning Paonia, Hotchkiss, Grand Junction and Whitewater. Other members include Jacob Ford and his son Ayden, Nathan and Laila Watchman, Holly and Schuyler Daugherty, Apryl Smathers, Natasha Krasnow, Aman Sircus, Mikala Koster, Taelour Wagler, Amy Capps, Dave Fields, Melinda Sebold, Sarah and Justin Johnsen, and more. Performances include as many as 15 troupe members, or as little as two.

Illumicirque formed after another group Bassignani and her husband, Will, belonged to dissolved, called the Burning Desert Fire Collective. Now they perform at a variety of venues, including, festivals, the Grand Junction Farmers’ Market, and private parties.

“All the people in the group are friends and family,” she said. “We are not all of the same talent, and that’s what makes it so great.”

Watchman, 37, and his 10-year-old daughter Laila, both Grand Junction residents, are members of Illumicirque together.

“(Laila) has been clowning since she was 6,” Watchman explained, while taking a break from a recent group practice at the farm. He chatted while standing on stilts, wearing a neon-colored costume and a yellow, curly-haired wig.

Laila, wearing a tiny pink top hat and a purple zip-up hoodie, agreed, saying “I like to watch and practice.” She’s currently learning to use fire fans and poi (“ … swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmical and geometric patterns,” Wikipedia.org said.)

As a fire performer, Watchman uses props like devil sticks, a staff spinner, poi, fire fans, and juggling clubs in Bassignani’s shows.

“I even have a fire hula hoop,” he said.

And what Watchman loves the most about Illumicirque is Bassignani’s vision.

“She is the ring master; she gives us parts and her vision, we take it, and make it our own,” he said. “We do it for the love of performing.”

For more information about Illumicirque, visit http://www.coloradofiredance.com/illumicirque.html or find them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/illumicirque.

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