Dancing with Fire
Skylar Mallas-Darby performs with rings of flames during the luau show ‘Sekai’ at Kilohana Plantation. Fire, say MallasDarby and partner Kaia Shine, is ‘alive’ and full of energy
Skylar Mallas-Darby and Kaia Shine weren’t listening when their parents told them about not playing with fire, and the result is pure art
Skylar Mallas-Darby and Kaia Shine have been mesmerizing audiences with fire for more than a decade. The creators of Soul Fire Productions sizzle with their all-women fire dance troupe.
Visitors to Luau Kalamaku are among those who have felt a flurry of emotions while watching Mallas-Darby and Shine spin fire. The two are part of the mythical story told three times a week at Kilohana Plantation’s luau show. Six years ago, the fire dancers’ roles were written into the love story about a voyage from Tahiti to Hawai’i.
“I love people’s reactions and responses,” says MallasDarby. “And seeing them inspired and touched and wanting to try it themselves.”
Their movements must be timed with pinpoint accuracy while authentic shapes and designs are relayed through the use of various ignited tools, including poi balls.
“Fire feeds me energetically,” says Shine.
“It changes form, it shifts and it’s alive – it’s a living, breathing entity,” adds Mallas-Darby. “So it’s not just you dancing, you’re dancing with fire.”
Performing is exhilarating and powerful for both of the professional dancers. Yet, fire also can be an unpredictable component to work with.
“So many different things need to be considered,” says Shine.
Safety, of course, is of utmost importance, and there are many detailed requirements that must be adhered to, such as performing in certain areas where wind will not generate a hazard.
But practice really does make perfect because the troupe has managed to develop a heightened sensitivity to the fire they spin. So while it may look frightening to others, it is no longer intimidating to the accomplished team.
Still, even though they have endured years of training, working with fire never grows old or tiresome.
“It is very humbling,” says Mallas-Darby. “I feel very humbled and grounded, and I also feel exhilarated and like my energy is being cleared by the fire.”
Fire dancing in Hawai’i is especially meaningful for Mallas-Darby and Shine. The duo feel they are paying a special tribute to Pele, the goddess of fire.
“We have so much reverence for her,” says MallasDarby. “I feel like she’s giving us a blessing and saying, ‘yes, share this beauty.'”
One of the troupe’s most popular shows for private functions such as weddings is in tribute to the Hawaiian goddess. The group of five trained dancers, including Mallas-Darby and Shine, also is routinely contracted to perform 12- to 15-minute shows, like Ho’o Mana Mana and Soul Cirque, using different music, tools and costumes.
“It’s very inspiring for a lot of people to actually watch a group dance with choreography and fire,” says Shine, who was enticed originally by the artistic visual beauty of fire dancing when she saw a Samoan fire knife performance on the Mainland.
“I felt very called to learn and dance with fire,” she says.
Largely self-taught, Shine combined New Zealand’s Maori culture of using poi balls with the modern use of wicks for fire.
“It’s blossomed all over the world and is a very huge culture now,” she says of her trade.
Shine is originally from the Caribbean (Barbados and Trinidad), and moved to Canada when she was 10. In her mid-20s, Shine discovered and moved to Kaua’i.
Some 12 years ago, Shine met Mallas-Darby, who was immediately intrigued by the expressive art form.
“I was coerced by a friend to light up and I’ve been spinning fire ever sense,” Mallas-Darby jokes. The New York City native moved to the island 17 years ago. It was Kaua’i’s warm, tropical climate that drew her.
“My family always went skiing, but I always wanted to go to Hawai’i,” she says. “I just wanted to sit under a palm tree and drink from a coconut.” When she was finally able to come here, the wife of property manager Daniel Darby and mother of Alaya Moon Mallas (13) never left.
“I’ve always been inspired by it,” says Mallas-Darby regarding dance, performance and theatre.
Growing up in the Big Apple especially encouraged her to become involved in performing arts. Launching the relatively new form of dancing on Kaua’i wasn’t easy, however. Mallas-Darby admits to pounding the pavement for awhile and offering a “ton” of free shows to people around the island before the unique art form really took off.
“We were getting ourselves out there so people could see what we have to offer, and then little by little people started to hire us, and it started to grow and grow and grow,” she explains.
The effort has paid off in recent years, as the troupe expanded to a full-blown entertainment company that now hires out other performance groups, including hula dancers and musicians.
“We started noticing how much amazing talent there is on the island and how many amazing performers, and nobody’s really working,” says Mallas-Darby. “We wanted to create a platform for more artists
on this island because there are so many amazingly talented people.”
Two years ago, she and Shine decided to create a venue for people to continue doing what they love and actually get paid doing it.
“We’ve had a lot of success in bringing together amazing artists,” says Shine who enjoys supporting local performers. “We’re really an ohana, for sure.”
This weekend marks the company’s first-ever complete artistic collaboration. It will present an avant-garde multimedia production called Sekai (meaning one world in Japanese), which has been Shine’s vision since 2011. Local talent will showcase the story of a young girl who takes a mystical voyage set in a Pacific-Asian fantasy world. Featured artists will include belly, modern and fire dancers, as well as musicians and taiko drummers.
“It’s definitely a rich tapestry of many different artists,” says Shine, who directs the show and also designed many of the intricate costumes.
Building long-lasting relationships with these and other artists from around the island has been the most rewarding attribute of what Mallas-Darby does, “and to see us all live our dreams and realize our passions and do what we love.”
Prior to fire dancing, Mallas-Darby’s massage therapy business was her bread and butter, while the entertainment aspect was more of a hobby.
“Now it’s the other way around,” she says.
Shine, who works part time at the YWCA as a crisis counselor for sex assault and domestic violence, also is thankful for the success of the company and looks forward to many more years of bringing original performance art to the island.
Though the young women spend most of their time developing Soul Fire Productions, Mallas-Darby also enjoys spending time in nature with her family and friends, and Shine loves to be outdoors with her two dogs.
“It is a super profound, deep, amazing experience, and I’m continually learning from her on a lot of levels,” says Shine of working with Mallas-Darby.
The feeling is mutual for Mallas-Darby, and she agrees that they continue to teach each other new ways of bringing joy to audiences.
The fire dancers are excited to offer a new level of entertainment to the island with Sekai.
“I would love for everyone to leave with hope in their hearts,” says Shine.
“It’s going to be heartfelt,” agrees Mallas-Darby of the story, which is directed toward the awakening of a new consciousness across the planet. “People are going to leave feeling touched by the message. I think it’s going to stick with people.
“This is a project from our hearts.”
Sekai is onstage Feb. 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Kilohana Plantation. Doors open at 6:30; pupu and wine will be available for purchase. Food is provided by Chef Morgan Bowan and Chef AJ Irons.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit soulfireproductions.com.