Playing with Fire


Local entertainer Pedro Balseiro Pedro Balseiro

An average day on the job for Pedro Balseiro includes dodging flames and remaining stoic in the face of flying blades. It’s not the typical Canadian’s day on the job, thank heavens, but Balseiro is anything but typical. 

Balseiro is a performance artist. His specialty: juggling and fire-dancing. His props: knives, machetes, fire batons, and poi. Poi, he explains, is both the name of the art and the equipment. Performers use tethered weights which are swung in the air in rhythmic and geometric patterns. It can be choreographed to music and, when performed with precision, creates a visual effect that mesmerizes the viewer. 

Fire poi was one of his first performing arts. The Kevlar weights at the end of the tether are doused with fuel and set on fire, then spun in clockwise and counter-clockwise circles for dramatic effect. In time, he began to work with glow poi, using LED lights in the weighted end and along the tether. While it’s not as perilous, it’s equally awe-inspiring as the movement creates astounding after-dark effects, fooling the eye into seeing holographic images in the air. 

A fascination with Thailand inspired Balseiro in the art of poi, or fire-dancing. He trained himself through online tutorials and watching the many experienced Thai fire dancers in action. He admits it takes strong wrists and good coordination to become adept at it. A few unfortunate mishaps, too. 

“I’ve burned my hands and arms a lot. I have a scar,” he says, pointing just beneath his right eye, “from the fire staff.”

He’s also suffered a shoulder injury from the constant circular motion required by the poi.

Juggling, for Balseiro, seemed an obvious next step, as he loves to keep himself challenged. He began working with knives and machetes only once he’d become proficient with safer objects. 

Balseiro met his business partner, Brett Hogan, at the Winnipeg Circus Club where the two had been practicing their skills along with children and young adults from around the province. Hogan was a one-man freak show, walking on glass and driving spikes into his nasal cavities. Together, the pair created a juggling act, adding props and juggling objects to increase the wow factor of their daredevil feats. 

The Spark Show, as they call their gig, was busy throughout the summer of 2017, performing at festivals, in parks, and at the prestigious Thunder Bay Buskers Festival, where Balseiro says they were a hit. They were immediately invited back to entertain at the 2018 event. 

They’ve also been invited to perform a new interactive feat of daring—knife-throwing—for corporate events. 

“It’s kind of a gag that we do,” says Balseiro. “We usually get the CEO to stand in front of [a knife-throwing] wall. We blindfold him and, well, you have to watch the show.”

Spoiler alert: you can find them on YouTube to see how it ends.

Like many performance artists, Balseiro’s artistic interests are diverse. He’s long been infatuated with cinematography, a passion he’s had since childhood and rediscovered while travelling.

He started small, purchasing a camera and posting his pictures and videos online. Along the way, he crossed paths with another Niverville man who has worked on film crews for local productions. This new friend hooked him up with the right workshops and soon Balseiro joined the Winnipeg chapter of IATSE, a union supporting workers in all levels of film production. Balseiro then began work on local film sets as a “grip,” providing technical support to camera and lighting staff. You have to start at the bottom rung, he says, and work your way up the ladder.

“The film industry in Manitoba is really growing because of the tax credits, so a lot of the productions are coming here,” Balseiro says. “Last summer was the busiest summer in a very long time and they’re predicting that this summer will be even busier. The [production companies] hire locals from Manitoba to get the tax credit.”

He says filming days can be intense, working 14-hour days for weeks on end. Last year, Balseiro had 60 days on set, working in a variety of conditions and locations.

“I decided to pursue this path because, if I’m honest with myself, I want to do what I’m passionate about,” Balseiro adds. “I want work to be fun and to look forward [to it].”

As a young man of only 26, he’s already chased after a lot of his passions. Balseiro left his home city of Sao Paulo, Brazil when he was barely out of high school, setting off to see the world that so deeply intrigued him. His journey began in South America and soon took him overseas to New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand. 

Extended travel visas allowed him to stay long enough in each location to learn something new. In Australia, he went to school to learn English. In New Zealand, he trained to become a scuba instructor. While his family likely expected to greet him at the airport on his expected day of return, Balseiro wasn’t ready.

“Once that day came I just missed my flight because I was having so much fun there meeting new friends,” he says. “When you live someplace for a while you kind of create a family there.” 

While in Thailand, he met the girl who would become his partner, Liz. Liz grew up in Niverville, and it was in Niverville where the two returned to make their home. Balseiro seems settled now, having just received his permanent residency in Canada. While he loves it here, his next goal is to apply for a U.S. travel visa, allowing him to cost-effectively fly back to Brazil and visit the family he left behind.

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