The Winter Lights Festival

Frida Kahlo’s life was forever changed the day a trolley bus accident put her in a full body cast for three months. It was then, as a bedridden teenage girl, that she began to paint. Left to pass the time alone, she used herself as a model.

Most artists can point back to an experience that cinched their fate. For Mike Carson, the moment was significantly less traumatic than Kahlo’s, but nonetheless definitive. He was only a school child of five or six years old when the magic of live theatre cast its spell over him. An arts advocate, he is distressed that young children today aren’t being exposed to the arts in light of school budget cuts. He founded The Winter Lights Festival in part, with the hope of inspiring a new generation of artists.

A producer of corporate theatrical events in New York City, Carson has owned the house in Milford where he has spent most weekends for close to three decades. He’s found the small town’s Victorian architecture is an ideal backdrop for performance ­- in the case of Winter Lights, ice theater by Boundless Edge with large puppets by the Puppeteers Cooperative.

The festival is now in its fourth year, although the first two years were comparatively limited in scope, Carson said, with readings of poetry like Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” in lieu of the spectacle of last year’s Persephone story. Inspired by the life and paintings of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, this year’s “Viva La Vida” will be presented at the 80 by 100 foot rink at Anne Street Park maintained by Milford borough of Parks and Recreation.

Leaping off Kahlo’s oft-quoted words, “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst,” the program will depict both the vehicular accident as well as her husband, painter Diego Rivera.

Younger audience members might not understand specifically what is going on when they see Diego is dancing with his wife and then later, her sister, Carson suggested, but the symbolism will be quite clear to most adults. “Viva La Vida” is also inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead which the producer described as “a positive celebration of those departed.”

United States Figure Skating Gold Medalist and former member of the Ice Theatre of New York, Beth Woronoff, is the founder and director of Boundless Edge Ice Dance Ensemble based in Saugerties, NY. She is the choreographer of “Viva La Vida,” directing several of her students in the production. World and Olympic pair skater Line Haddad – who at age 14 was the youngest athlete to compete in the 1992 Olympics – will be featured. Among the puppets contributed by Theresa Linnihan who runs a Puppet Library at Brooklyn College, are the expected Day of the Dead skeletons. Puppet Cooperative member Sara Peattie who works in Boston has designed large fabric paintings that will not be complete until Frida and Diego skate into the composition. Costumes were imported from Mexico.

Carson’s first experience with ice was producing an event for one Fortune 500 Company or another at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. The resort just happened to have an ice rink and he couldn’t help but take advantage of the novelty.

“I said, ‘Maybe it’s crazy, but let’s introduce the products on ice,’” he recalled. “One of the people helping us was a (teenage) Scott Hamilton.”

Most skating routines seen by the general public are sporting events, built around the technical maneuvers on which they are scored. They are less about the skater’s expression of an inspirational piece, he noted, although champions are the ones that can skate on both levels.

He likened ice dance to a more fluid form of ballet in which a leap doesn’t end when the dancer’s feet return to the ground but continues with the unending inertia of a glide across the ice. In ice theater, the beauty of this movement is built upon even further by a call for the performers to act, Carson said.

“I don’t want to say it’s a new form, but it’s something that’s not being done at this point that I know of – definitely not in northeastern Pennsylvania.”

The Winter Lights festival was initially supposed to run two consecutive Saturdays at the Anne Street Park in Milford but will now be held solely on Feb. 4.

“Due to the warm weather we have a swimming pool instead of an ice rink,” Carson lamented.

The main program will run about 45 minutes following a series of short opening pieces five to 10 minutes in length. A section of the “Viva La Vida” will be presented at Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center later this year and the entire piece will be seen in March at Riverbank Ice Rink off Riverside Drive at 144th Street. Carson is hoping to receive grant funding next year to cover an even grander spectacle about the Rise and Fall of the Norse Gods. Even children are familiar with these ancient mythologies, he said, if only for the stories told by their video games. It’s important, however, that the festival continue to be offered free of charge.

“We struggle to make it be free, because you want as many people to come as possible, and even if you charge $2, some people won’t do it. The point is that it’s open.”

Schedule of Events:

Saturday, Feb. 4

- 11-11:45 a.m. Skating presentations by the Boundless Edge Dance Ensemble and the Ice Theatre of NY.

- Noon-2:30 p.m. Passed potluck luncheon at The Good Shepherd Church, across the street from the rink with music by the Delaware Valley High School (DVHS) String Orchestra.

- 3-3:45 p.m. World Premiere of “Viva La Vida,” based on the life and paintings of Frida Kahlo. Followed by a solo presentation by Jordan Hartey accompanied by the Delaware Valley Highs School Chorus singing “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

- 4-5:15 p.m. Free dessert buffet at The Good Shepherd Church with a DVHS Chamber Chorus presentation, and a Meet the Skaters and Creators of “Viva La Vida” Q&A.

All events are free of charge, but contributions and donations in support of Winter Lights and the DVHS Music Department will be accepted. A beer tasting originally scheduled for this Saturday has not been rescheduled. Visit www.winterlightsfest.com for more information or to verify the status of a macaroni and cheese contest originally scheduled to run from noon to 2 p.m. at the Dimmick Inn in conjunction with the festival.

The Anne Street Park rink is open to the public for skating free of charge. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own skates or take their chances with the limited number of skates available to borrow at the warm-up shed.