FIRE & FLIGHT: The Art of the Circus Comes to Wonder Valley

By Monique A. LeBleu

Shadowed by the rolling Mojave hills and near The Palms in Wonder Valley, lies two-and-a-half acres of secluded desert countryside with a site constructed and designed to provide a unique event experience that frees the body of the ground and sets the soul on fire.

Opened in June of 2021 and active as of September 2021, located at the Dusty Llama Ranch, Fire and Flight Retreat was developed by British actor, model, speaker, aerialist, burlesque performer, and show host, Cat LaCohie. Partnering with Amanda Ritchie, Cirque du Soleil aerialist and founder of the aerial acrobatics training school, Grounded in Flight, they teach various circus performance arts using equipment such as aerial Lyra, silks, and the more rarely seen aerial spiral, while combining skills in the fire arts.

This bi-annual retreat hosts up to fifteen students for three days and nights. Bodies twist, writhe, and twirl. Fire dances upon the skin, flames spray and shimmer like dragon fire, and light flickers golden to crimson on faces under the sparkling, inky darkness of the night. This is not a level in Dante’s Inferno, but a little slice of heaven in Wonder Valley, catering to lovers of the fire and aerial circus arts.

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The retreat returns to the hi-desert Thursday, September 15 – 17, 2022. Participants choose from packages that offer opportunities to either learn new performance skills based on their existing skill sets or a desired new life-changing experience. All are available to both the active professional as well as the novice, while providing practical, tangible tools for self-growth and discovery. “New aerialists who are spreading their wings for the first time will learn the fundamentals and technique needed to play and explore, and seasoned aerialists will get to stretch their wings and take flight with act development, advanced combos, and tricks with a hyper focus on transitions and storytelling,” boasts the website.

With a B.A. in Theater Creation and Solo Performance and over 15 years of experience in teaching and performing burlesque worldwide, LaCohie, also known as “Vixen DeVille,” teaches a body confidence course in Los Angeles (both in person and online) using burlesque techniques that combine performance, comedy, persona, and costume crafting. She has also written a step-by-step guidebook to help students, current and future, to freely explore and express themselves “with no boundaries and no judgment.” LaCohie has taught beginners to eat fire since 2011. She has hosted and taught fire eating to travelers for Airbnb experiences.

Amanda Ritchie came to Fire and Flight with experience and education as a ballet dancer as well as a skilled circus performer and aerialist. She has performed in Los Angeles, Europe, and most recently in Las Vegas’ Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity and Michael Jackson ONE. “I am so grateful to be a part of this whole endeavor,” said Ritchie on the Fire and Flight Instagram. “[LaCohie] is one of the most creative, supportive, and caring humans I know, and I absolutely love when I get to be around her!”

LaCohie and Ritchie combine their distinctive skills to teach unique performance techniques and provide highly photogenic opportunities for students to safely learn, explore, and discover. Together with the site crew, they have constructed safe and unique structures that utilize and highlight the pleasures of the crisp spring and fall air within this unique hi-desert landscape. A generous amount of stretched shade cloth and foam pad flooring provides a tented learning and exercise space. A pyramid canopy shades suspended aerialists and equipment, with a separate structure dedicated to silk suspension and use. There are wide-open areas for the fire arts practice space.

Included in the prospectus are techniques in fire eating, fire breathing, and even more on the basics of “fire flow art” which focuses on body burning, flame transfers, and fire trails. Here, LaCohie and Ritchie instruct participants in the use of fire fans, including weaves, reels, spins, and snakes, with a priority in fire safety and performance protocols. Combined with these are instructions in aerial and equipment such as the hoop, lollipop, spiral, and silks, along with lessons in stage presence, act development, and storytelling. Their “Rising Phoenix Package,” purchased solely or as an add-on option, includes a butane and aerial feature where, coupled with aerial equipment use, a froth of butane bubbles are spread on the skin and ignited. The retreat provides an informal showcase for participants where the students exhibit this combination. Using their own music, costumes, or props, their performance is captured by a professional photographer, providing evidence of an unforgettable moment that solidifies a lifetime of bragging rights.

The retreat does not include overnight accommodations and students are required to sign waivers and provide vaccination cards prior to coming to the retreat. For more information on the retreat, other events, or to hire performances, go to:

Photos by Laura Castro and Jesse Koester/Courtesy of Fire and Flight.

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