Only the dead know Brooklyn, they say (although I've never been sure what that means). But many of the living got a closer look on Saturday at the astonishing Green-Wood Cemetery's "Angels and Accordians" event, part of "openhousenewyork". It might be more accurate, if less catchy, to say "Only in Brooklyn would hundreds of us turn out for a site-specific dance performance that involved girls in a graveyard swinging in trees while guys in top hats played accordians." For me, it was a chance to give a workout to my nifty E-bay Canon PowerShot S50, recommended by RobJ of City Birder.
The dance event was sweet, with the basic wackiness of accordians keeping the whole thing from taking itself too seriously. The vibe was sort of "hipsters-meet-liturgical-dance-team and they all 'do' Edward Gorey." The choreography was minimal, lots of floating about, but there were two moments of genuine brilliance (both sprung entirely from the use of the site itself). One took place in the Catacombs, where white-clad dancers stood motionless behind lit candles in the little "rooms" and spoke aloud the names of the dead, ringing a silver chime (it worked, really--I couldn't bring myself to photograph them, it would have seemed awfully intrusive). This is the exterior entrance to the Catacombs; as you walked down this interior vault, you'd look to one side, and there would be a solemn apparition inside the burial chambers to right and left. Wild. The other great moment was at the end, when the dancers converged on the terraced hillside outside Green-Wood's chapel and "disappeared" by simply lowering themselves behind the ridges of earth and out of our sightlines below. Extra kudos to the dancers who elected to go barefoot instead of wearing Keds with their diaphanous garments. For the record, Charles-Ives-like dissonances sound terrible on accordians.
The glories of Green-Wood are such that even the most earnest dancers and accordionists risk being upstaged. To our delight, several mausoleums (mausolea?) were open to the public, including this wonderful forecourt-and-temple arrangement; an astute guy next to me pointed out that "Christ had a six-pack, and was really, like, an Adonis." Good Lord, look closer (below)--he's right! (Sometimes there are benefits to living in a borough crawling with artists--like when the guy next to you with the bike-messenger bag turns into Sister Wendy.)
Green-Wood (their spelling, not mine) is famous as the burial place of--the famous: Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Morse, Lola Montez, and many other luminaries. But of course it's the countless tiny headstones of babies and young children that blow a drift of dead leaves across the sunny heart: "Our Little Jessie," "Baby George," "Rosie," and on and on, sometimes three or more babies in a single family plot, within a few years of one another. How did their hearts take it, those Victorian parents? Did it help to walk these lovely hills, where stone angels have beseeched the sky since before the Civil War began? During the tour, we learned that Green-Wood only has room for about five more years' of burials, and then what? Wisely, they're preparing to "rebrand" themselves as a nature preserve, historical park, and sculpture garden. But amid all the arts and conservation "partnering" and nonprofit "planning processes," one hopes that the immortal souls won't be forgotten, or turned into nothing but quaint themes for hipster art projects.
Little Rosie's mom and dad would have wanted us to stop amid all our cultural preoccupations and spare them a prayer.