Volume 78 - Number 47 / April 29 - May 5 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by J.B. Nicholas

Making puppets and costumes at the Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center for the upcoming Hudson River Pageant on Sat., May 9.

River pageant will overflow with sights and sounds

By Rita Wu

For 15 years Felicia Young, founder and director of Earth Celebrations, organized the Rites of Spring and Rites of Winter pageants. Part parade, part performance art, the pageants highlighted the need to save the gardens of the East Village and Lower East Side and community gardens throughout New York. The Hudson River Pageant is her new project that also addresses environmental issues through the arts.

In partnership with Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center, the event is dedicated to raising awareness about the restoration of the Hudson River and to address climate change in New York City. The pageant is also celebrating the history of the Hudson River, since this year marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s and Samuel de Champlain’s exploratory journeys of the great waterway. 

The Hudson River Pageant will be held Sat., May 9, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. (rain date May 10). The procession will travel along the Lower Manhattan waterfront from Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center in Tribeca, at 120 Warren St. at Greenwich St., to Gansevoort St. in the Greenwich Village section of Hudson River Park.

Young worked to save the gardens of the Lower East Side by bringing people together, by connecting the community to the gardens through celebration and art. Her goal was always, she said, “trying to create context for art that was social, political and real, and engage people beyond the art world.”

“So that was the quest that got me into thinking that pageantry — which was to me a combination of all the arts, music, dance, sculpture, puppetry and painting — you know, all of that, could be brought together; and it could be professional artists, nonprofessionals, community, and then try to address issues and maybe even change things.

“It’s not just a performance, and then it’s over,” she stressed. “We build these alliances, and those alliances are real. The people who are connected stay connected and do things together, and that’s how we were able to save the gardens.”

Young wants to apply this method to restoring the Hudson River. She wants to connect the people by “not just saying ‘Save the River’ but to feel that connection to that space.”

One way Young is building alliances is by offering free puppet- and costume-making workshops through May 6 for teens and adults at the Manhattan Youth Downtown Community Center. All the designs created will be used for the pageant. Wednesday workshops are from 6 p.m. to 9  p.m. and focus on making costumes that represent the species and habitats of the river. On Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. the workshops concentrate on creating giant 15-foot puppets.

Workshops for children are being offered at P.S. 89, P.S. 234, P.S. 150, the Henry Street Settlement and the Boys and Girls Republic, at E. Sixth St. and Avenue D. By the end, a total of 100 workshops will have been held to educate people about the Hudson River while engaging them in the pageant through making costumes and puppets.

When Young first started planning the Hudson River Pageant she didn’t know what it would consist of until she met with each of the organizations that agreed to be involved.

“I have to sit down and meet with each of you and discover what it is that you do and then try to design something based on that,” she explained. This was her approach to all of the pageant’s elements.

Through the River Project she learned that oysters were an abundant natural species in the river 100 years ago, and also function like trees do for the air, in that they filter the water of its toxins. Young designed an oyster garden-planting ceremony that will involve seeding the river with live oysters.

“We want to have them actually in oyster costumes doing the planting,” Young noted. “To really involve the people who are doing this, to embellish, to theatricalize reality, and sort of turn what they normally do into something that is performative.”

The River Project has also been recording fish sounds from the Hudson that have been turned into a Fish Sound Symphony by Gergori Czerkinsky to be used during the final performance.

Another highlight of the pageant will be the river cleansing ceremony. This component was inspired by the Hudson River Park Trust, which has a clean sanctuary campaign in which volunteers clean and pick up trash along the river’s shoreline, such as around the rocky Gansevoort Peninsula. The Trust also has a live fish catch-and-release educational program for children, which will be included in the pageant.

The Dance of the River Grass will feature music and movement performances by the Human Kinetic Arts Dancers with Pook the Percussion Orchestra of Kingston, N.Y. The dancers will be wearing living river grass skirts created by Michelle Brody. These skirts are now in an installation at the World Financial Center Winter Garden. 

“Instead of just having it as a museum piece within an exhibition — you know, for maybe a select group of people who go to museums — this was some way that she could basically have her artwork in a living way, part of a whole ceremony, part of a whole ritual, part of a whole performance piece,” said Young. By the time of the pageant, the skirts will be fully grown and ready to wear.

The pageant’s last performance piece — a collaboration of community groups, artists, schools and river organizations — encompasses song, cleansing of the Hudson and a dance of boats. Alice Farley will choreograph kayakers decked out in gold costumes and 30-foot-long rowboats festooned with marine sculptures. David Hykes, a world pioneer in overtone singing, will perform as a choreographed movement and river cleansing simultaneously take place.

Throughout the procession, there will be songs and poems by artists, students and community groups focusing on the river’s various species. The issue of climate change and promotion of alternative energies also will be woven into the pageant.

Young said she hopes the pageant “brings attention to the fact that the community and this large gathering of people are joyously demanding, supporting our needs to move toward a clean-energy future and protection of our natural resources in New York. And, hopefully,” she said, “you convey that, and I think by doing these public displays it seeps into the conciousness. 

“You start with a group, and then it grows and grows and grows,” she said. “I kind of call it ‘joyous resistance.’ It’s an explosion-of-joy celebration in doing, that can make a change.”

For the full schedule and times of performances for the Hudson River Pageant or to find out more about workshops and volunteering call 212-777-7969 or e-mail mail@earthcelebrations.com

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