Ahead of Artist and Performer Caroline Sabin’s new show Blood on the Snow, which will be performed at NoFit State’s Four Elms site in Adamsdown, Cardiff from Friday 19 to Tuesday 23 December, Cath Barton met up with Caroline and watched the work in progress.
I vividly recall a brief but exquisite respite from the frantic consumerist rush towards Christmas in December 2012 when I walked up a surburban Cardiff street and into the tiny snowy winter wonderland of Caroline Sabin’s A Curious Zoo. For her new show for the 2014 winter solstice, Blood on the Snow, Caroline is working on the very much bigger stage of the Four Elms building, a former church which is now both the permanent home of NoFit State Circus and a creative resource for other performing groups.
I met Caroline on what she was keen to stress was only day one of the second week of rehearsals. I was nonetheless able to see and listen to some of the essential elements of the piece – lyric movement exploring the notion of the circle from two of Wales’ best young dancers, Beth Powlesland and Lara Ward; cheeky, playful ensemble movement in the tradition of the commedia dell’arte; and a taste of the glorious three-part harmonies of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, which will be performed during the piece in its entirety by the forces which the composer originally intended, upper voices and harp. Musical direction is in the hands of the Tianyi Lu, a classically-trained musician who brings to the work a profound awareness of the importance of using the whole body in order to free-up vocal expression.
What the group is carefully crafting to share with their audiences is a multi-sensory celebration to bring light into what Caroline Sabin evocatively terms ‘the dark hinge of the year’. She points out that the winter solstice is an important time marked in every country of Northern Europe, including in Britain, although here we conflate it with Christmas. It is, she says, not so many generations ago that gathering a good store of food at this time of year was essential if people were to survive until the following spring.
Physical survival through the winter is less in jeopardy now, but Caroline is very aware that many people still struggle emotionally during the period of the long dark nights. Her passionately-held desire in making this work is to offer people hope of survival through the dark, by showing that things can and do change, and that at the lowest point the seed of new growth is present. She says that the reason she is making the work is to give people an experience of inner happiness. A simple yet quite profound and important aim in these times of instant gratification which is most often illusory.
The parallel threads of music, ensemble movement and lyric dance, crafted over the weeks leading up the performances, will surely work their magic to achieve this aim, but there is something else in operation here too. Caroline is using essential signifiers – candles, fire, snow, ice, pine trees – to feed into the winter solstice fantasy and evoke Pavlovian responses which, as she says, will ‘bring back that shiver of excitement’ to adults which they felt at Christmas as children, and which they can pass on to their own children. Hence the reason the show is aimed at adults, rather than children, though Caroline stresses that there is nothing in it which is inappropriate for children who wish to come along.
So, for those who recoil from the over-commercialisation of Christmas, Blood on the Snow promises a space/time portal which you can, like the children in the Narnia books, literally pass through at the back of the wardrobe. Which of us has not wished they could do that? And to have the chance of a close encounter with the enchantingly mischievous spirits of the woods too, surely a bonus!
Photo courtesy of Gerald Tyler