Volume 23, Number 3 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 28 - June 3, 2010
Photos by Michele Lombard and Jacques L. Torchon
LEFT: The Paddle Board Dance. RIGHT: The River Dance.
Oysters and oil make for surprising pageant
BY Helaina N. Hovitz
Who knew seahorses, oysters, and other unlikly creatures swim amid the assorted garbage floating along the Hudson River? Many residents of Battery Park City don’t, which is why on Saturday, May 22, it was time for those creatures to take human form.
Hundreds of volunteers put finishing touches on their costumes and posed for pictures outside of the Winter Garden as they waited patiently to launch Earth Celebrations’ second annual Hudson River Pageant.
The highly ecological event brought attention to the recent restoration of the Hudson River with only one rehearsal under their belt.
“City people need as much information as possible about the environment and the infrastructure of the world,” said Katherine Freygang, who is based in New York as an artist and works as an energy consultant in Connecticut and painted the decorative robes she and her friends wore.
The elaborate costumes and enormous puppets were created in free workshops run by artists-in-residence Michele Brody and Lucrecia Novoa. The workshops took place twice a week in the World Financial Center over the course of three months, but some costumes were created by students at P.S. 89 and the Henry St. Settlement. Among the costumed marchers were 15-foot tall puppets, musicians, and a couple of menacing “Trash Tricksters,” who wore capes reading “Oil Spill” and carried oil slicks made from black bags. The pageant, which had its first run last year, took on another dimension this year in lieu of the recent disaster.
“We shouldn’t just be talking about the Hudson River, but about protecting and restoring ecosystems and waterways everywhere,” said pageant director Felicia Young, who organized 2,500 volunteers and dozens of community organizations to make the event possible.
Young’s motivation for the theatrical pageant was to bring art, music, poetry, dance, theatre, ceremony and ritual together in a community context and address the issues in a participatory way.
“Last year I got a composer to compose a fish symphony that incorporated the sounds of actual fish,” said Young. “They were doing it in a scientific way, so we took that and turned it into something public that would then let the community know what was happening.”
Some onlookers, like Philip Munday, stumbled upon the pageant by accident. Only in the country for three weeks to work on a boat in the marina outside of the Winter Garden, he was surprised and impressed.
“I can respect the cause, especially because we just saw the oil spill,” Munday said. “The creatures look great, and it’s for a good cause.”
Kids and adults alike sprang from their seats at P.J. Clarke’s and Southwest N.Y., taking photos and waving as the parade circled around the marina. The procession continued up the Hudson River Park promenade until pageant coordinator Paula Uppal yelled from 100 feet back, “You went too far! The Irish Hunger Memorial is back this way!” The people composing the giant fish that led the parade had to momentarily disassemble into five fast-moving fish pieces in order to catch up with the group. The sea creatures posed for pictures and wiggled around for the little ones as Abby Fischer, dressed as a river maiden, got ready to sing at the top of the structure.
Ashie Sinha, 2, ran giddily from one costumed person to the next. The toddler and her family just moved to Battery Park from Midtown two months earlier, and her father Pulack made it a point to bring her to the pageant. “She needs to learn about where she’s living. The river provides us with so much,” he said as he smiled at his daughter’s growing enthusiasm.
She wasn’t the only little one mesmerized by the marchers. “Matais is so excited. He loves the colors,” said Downtown resident Karina Steiner of her ten-month-old son. She and her daughter Maia, 3, saw the crowd of people gathering outside of their 2 River Terrace window and stopped by to check it out. “This was a beautiful surprise,” said Steiner, “like a mini-parade for Battery Park City.”
As the pageant continued down the River, the Trash Tricksters “attacked” and taunted the costumed river species. Luckily, all of the creatures were saved at the end of the parade route by the heroic Recyclers.
A crowd of at least two hundred gathered to watch the River Maiden dance, choreographed by Rina Rinkewich, including two student volunteers dressed as Oysters hailing from the Bronx.
“At my school, there is a heavy emphasis on health…pollution affects everyone, especially people with asthma. We need to create awareness,“ said Stefany Maria, 17.
The youngest members of the dance troupe, Rafaella Spielberg, 8, and Zoe MacIntyre, 7, were nervous from start to finish, but quite proud of themselves once the dance was over. “I liked being water. You get to move and flow more,” said Spielberg.
Young commissioned Michele Brody, who does museum installations around the world and literally grows her artwork from grass seeds, to create living grass costumes for the dancers in the Dance of the River Grass. The Church Street School of Music & Art Choir performed the Choir River Song on Pier 32 shortly after. Further along at Pier 40, paddle boarders and windsurfers performed a Boat House Dance followed by a live fish release at the Charles Street. Pier.
After a year of confirming the participation of river organizations such as the Hudson River Park Trust, all of which were immediately receptive to the idea, Young was able to work with individual programs to formulate the pageant’s many creative elements.
“When I met with the River Project, they told me about the oyster planting program, so we designed an oyster planting ceremony in honor of that,” explained Young. The ceremony, complete with song and dance, began around 3 p.m. at the Christopher St. Pier. Oyster planting regularly takes place off of the nearby Water Taxi docks. Also close by is the bow notch on 10th St., which was specifically designed for the Hudson River Park Trust to remove the debris.
Valerie Sessa brought her two daughters over from Hoboken just to see the pageant. Both Ally, 6, and Caitie, 3, thought the pageant was really, really fun.
“The River Dance was my favorite part,” chimed Ally.
“The garbage men [Trash Tricksters] are silly,” added her little sister, Caitie.
The closing ceremony, compiled of a boat dance and harmonic chant concert, took place at 4 p.m. by Horatio Street, and combined 30-foot rowboats covered in marine-life sculptures and costumed kayaks to create dance movement on the water. Rob Buchanan, corresponding secretary and former president of the Village River Project, did more than just steer the lead boat; he played a large part in organizing the grand finale, and was quite happy with the way it played out.
“Some of the wilder aspects like the hats didn’t seem quite as weird this [second] time around,” said Buchanan.
Some people’s dedication to the cause is almost staggering. David Hykes of the harmonic choir, also part of the performance, agreed to fly in from his home in Paris two years in a row just to perform.
The pageant was not without its unexpected surprises, especially during the grand finale. During the boat dance, a massive Norwegian Cruise Line ship appeared southbound on the Hudson, and a sailboat appeared going north, likely bewildering most, if not all, of their passengers.
“As the sea creatures were making a river dance, a big cruise ship passed by as a background. A perfect reality check,” said costumed performer Cynthia Gale. “The riverboat drama was fun theatre…I was happy to join in with loud ‘boooos,’ because that’s just what I am feeling with BP’s oil spill,” said Gale. “That was a great emotional anger outlet!”
Felicia Young founded the non-profit environmental arts organization Earth Celebrations, which is dedicated to creating ecological awareness and reviving the arts in many New York communities. She founded the first Ecofest event for the New York City Parks Department, and is the creator of the Procession to Save Our Gardens, which ran in the East Village for 15 years. The Garden Pageants visited 45 community gardens en route from Grand St. to 13th St. over the course of ten hours, saving hundreds of gardens along the way.
Young had waited for new inspiration to come after the last Garden Pageant commenced in 2005. It came several years later, in the form of a boat dance as she looked out onto the water while playing with daughter Chloe in the park.
The Hudson River Pageant turnout was twice as big this year, which Young attributed to good weather and free advertising.
“It’s always a challenge because we don’t have a budget for advertising, it was all free listings, e-mails, and handing out postcards,” said Young. “I know other parents and was able to get word out at P.S. 41 and all of the different schools down here.”
Young did not initially plan to run the pageant again this year, but last year all of the organizations asked to be counted in almost immediately after the pageant was over. She said she “caught the bug” and couldn’t say no.
“It’s hard to walk away from it, especially when there is so much energy and enthusiasm from all of the organizations involved, as well as the community,” said Young
Young received the same enthusiastic response once the pageant ended on Saturday, but this time she cannot guarantee that the event will commence again next year. The process, from coordinating to fundraising, is exhausting, but the main reason for her uncertainty is the time it takes away from her daughter, who will turn six years old this week.
However, the sacrifice may well be worth it, based on what Chloe told her mother as soon as she returned home Saturday evening.
“Mommy, I’m so glad you did the pageant. I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life. I’ll remember it even when I die.”