PORTLAND, Maine — Barefoot on the bricks of Monument Square, Alexis Powers whirled in a blur of crimson flames and pounding drums while the evening deepened from purple to blue. The assembled July First Friday Art Walk crowd watched in a respectful circle as Powers spun a pair fiery hoops around her arms, hips, shoulders and legs. She threw one in the air, caught it, and swung it around her own neck, the flames passing close to her face and platinum hair.
When she emerged from the twisting conflagration, features intact and tresses unsinged, the assembled throng erupted into hoots and applause.
For Powers, 33, her fiery performances are just a continuation of a life of art she’s lived since before she was old enough to go to school.
“I’ve always been an artist. That was the goal from age 3,” she said. “I did a lot of drawing and painting and some sculpture, growing up. That was always a huge part of my identity.”
After graduating from Richmond High School, she earned a degree from the Maine College of Art, where she was encouraged to mix media and push her boundaries. That spirit of experimentation led to her flow arts practice, which covers a variety of movement-based art, combining dance and skill-based prop manipulation. It includes Maori poi spinning, hooping and staff twirling. The props are often lit by LED lights or fire.
Instead of just pictures on paper or canvas, she also creates color-rich visions in flame and light that appear to her audience for only fractions of a second before being erased and replaced with another glowing swirl.
“With the performances, I’m trying to create these visual and fully-immersive images with the music, costume, makeup, lighting, choreography, that create a story/mood/experience for the audience,” she said. “The hard part has been training my body to do what I want it to do. I’m constantly trying to push myself into more difficult poses, work on flexibility and contortion and just make every show better than the last.”
Powers got serious about hooping in 2009 after picking up a toy version and giving it a try.
“I wasn’t expecting to be any good, but I made it go around once and it was addicting after that,” she said.
Since then, Powers has taken classes from nationally and internationally acclaimed circus and flow artists and watched a ton of YouTube videos. She has a room in her Augusta home cleared out and dedicated to practice.
“I practice at least every day, probably, at the very least, an hour a day,” she said. “It’s very relaxing and kind of like a moving meditation for me, and it just kind of keeps me calm and centered.”
She said one of her guiding mantras is: “The master has failed more times than the beginner has tried.”
All the hard work is paying off for Powers. She regularly performs at Portland’s art walks and with Luminous Fire and Flow, an all-female troupe of professional flow artists. This year she has plans to perform at the Great North Music and Arts Festival in Maine and King Richard’s Faire in Massachusetts. She also has a sponsorship with Whirl and Dirvish hoops.
In the future, Powers hopes meld her visual and performance art even more.
“I have all kinds of ideas floating around in my head for future pieces,” she said. “Maybe a big canvas on the floor with some kind of ink or charcoal or paint and just rolling around doing this totally free-form jazz thing.”
It’s really only a matter of time, juggling practice, performances and a day job in a restaurant.
“Right now, I don’t really know,” she said. “It would be nice to imagine some bigger gigs, some bigger audiences. We’ll see. Whatever happens, happens.”