SPRING GLEN – A flash of light. The heat of fire. Audible gasps as the Mother of Dragons manipulates batons ablaze. "Something the likes of which Ellenville has never seen before," says Debbie Briggs, VP of Ellenville Regional Hospital.
The something was the extraordinary Fire Performance put on by Kerhonkson native Victoria Elizabeth, known to her friends as the Mother of Dragons, who left the crowd at a fundraising benefit for the Ellenville Hospital Foundation, open-mouthed in astonishment.
The performance was amazing, but so was the venue. For the event, the unique 300-acre Moosebeck estate was made available by John and Susan Cioffi, who completed the six-year construction of it in 2008. Moosebeck is a 6,000 square foot stone "castle inspired mansion" with a great hall boasting a twenty-foot-high cathedral ceiling. There are two other homes on the estate, which is tucked into a high valley in the hills above Spring Glen. "It was fun for us to show the community a home built from stone and timber harvested here on this property," said Susan Cioffi. "All the doors and windows, for instance, came from our own wood." The work involved, well, impressive doesn’t do it justice. Susan explained that the inspiration came from The Cloisters in upper Manhattan, and from a trip they’d made to Italy. The exterior stone was done by local mason Vido Bianca, of whom, Susan says simply, "He is an artist." John Cioffi also handled every single stone… the place is an absolute labor of love. It’s also for sale for $2.9 million.
And so, having found their way up into the hidden recesses of Painters Hill, the guests for the 2018 fundraiser found themselves transported into a kind of fantasy land, but one that came with hors d’oeuvres prepared by Sammy Brown’s restaurant in Cragsmoor, plus glasses of prosecco.
Set up next to the European style courtyard of the great house was the special tent for the proceedings. This was an "Inflammatory Flame-Retardant Tent" — as recommended by the National Fire Protection Agency.
When dark thunder clouds appeared out of the west, the performance was quickly set in motion. First, Natasha Althouse sang, backed up by Strings, her group of musicians, and then with the mood dial set to interesting with "deep earth" timbre, Victoria Elizabeth, wearing a form-fitting dress, with her hair up in a "horned" style, and looking as if she’d stepped out of the days of the Emperor Augustus, came out to dance and spout fire — literally.
Victoria, who graduated from Rondout Valley High School in 2007, calls her art "Fire Performance" and she is a member of The Hive, which bills itself as "The world’s only all-female fire breathing collective." The Hive has ten members who travel all over the world to perform choreographed fire shows. Victoria says, "We seem to inspire women to follow their passions and find the strength to crush all their fears."
The Hive supports the RAINN organization, (Rape Abuse Incest National Network) which assists women who have been victims of sexual assault and violence.
Victoria, whose mother passed away in Ellenville Regional Hospital when she was eight years old, noted that the hospital has always been a part of her life. "I remember driving past the hospital so many times, it was always there." So the ground was already prepared. "My cousin, Natasha, was asked to sing at this event. She suggested to Debbie Briggs that they reach out to me. And then we planned it and I decided to go really big, which meant six props. It’s also the first time I’ve performed with my cousin."
The dark clouds overhead, the hurrying winds, the sudden squalls of rain, were almost a biblical backdrop as Victoria lit a row of flaming torches on the floor of the tent, and then lit one prop after another, and danced and manipulated flames in mesmerizing patterns while the music played in the background, tabla thudding, sitar sending shimmering tones through the scene.
The Ellenville Regional Hospital Foundation couldn’t have done better unless the Mother of Dragons from Game of Thrones, had herself, flown in. Catching the fiery zest of the event, Victoria said, "Though we do everything to make sure things are safe, that little aspect of danger makes fire performance so enticing." She explained that she has been working with "fire spinning" for five years, and fire breathing for the last two.
And indeed, the climax of the show came with the actual fire breathing, which was spectacular, and left everyone with images that will never be forgotten!
The Cioffis were also very pleased. Susan said, "We were honored to be asked to host the fund raiser for our local hospital and we met many wonderful and generous people from the community for the first time."
Later, Debbie Briggs said she was also very happy with the event, that it had raised a good sum of money, though hard figures were not established yet. "Our goal is to pair an interesting venue with an exciting artist, and I believe we achieved that goal."