Thursday, June 11, 2009

See it from here

By Meredith Deliso

Jesse Phillips-Fein was out exploring Bay Ridge about a year ago when she came across the gem that is the 69th Street Pier, a quiet space about two city blocks long on the waterfront near the Belt Parkway.

“I saw the space and thought, this is crying out for a dance,” remembers Phillips-Fein, a Brooklyn native who now lives in Bay Ridge and teaches dance at the Brooklyn Friends School in downtown Brooklyn. “It’s an incredible space because it’s so peaceful.”

Collaborating with her friend, the dancer Cassie Mey, the two brought their idea of a site-specific piece on the pier to the organizers behind the Greening the Ridge festival, which debuted last year and brings local vendors, agencies programs, and individuals to the pier for an educational festival on how to green the community.

The dance performance, entitled “What We Can See From Here,” will be a major component of this year’s festival, coming to the pier June 14.

The festival is organized by the nascent Sunset-Ridge Waterfront Alliance (SRWA), formed two years ago to build public support for environmentally friendly educational resources on water-borne action and initiatives.

SRWA founder Heather McCown created the festival as a means to unite businesses and residents in the community in celebrating the pier and learn about ways to green it.

“There’s not that many activities that happen on the pier except fishing,” said McCown, who is also a member of Community Board 10’s Parks and Education Committees. “Our organization is about revitalizing the waterfront and getting more people to the water.”

A former professional dancer herself, McCown is especially excited to include a dance performance among the vendors, bands and community groups involved.

“I’ve always wanted to try and bring the arts to the community as well, and this is a great way to get people to have an informal taste of dance,” said McCown.

In “What We Can See From Here,” Phillips-Fein, Mey and two other dancers will use the pier’s six pairs of picnic tables in a piece that contemplates perspectives, both visual, shared and personal points of view, while accompanied by a saxophonist, Jay Rodriguez.

“We’re interested in how this mundane space becomes a sacred space, and the idea of gaining perspective through time passing,” said Phillips-Fein, who, in line with the meditative quality of the park, choreographed with Mey a piece whose movement has a meditative quality as well.

Children have the chance to do their own dancing through a workshop during the festival that will be teaching the basics of creative dance exploration.

“A lot of people approach dance or movement with an interest in learning a certain step,” said Phillips-Fein, “but I’m interested in liberating people’s relationship with their body and movement in such a way that they’re expressing something personal about themselves.”

In addition to dance, the festival will also involve musical performances from the Bay Ridge bands Pill Hill Radio and Frankie Marra & His Band, as well as the Xavier High School Jazz Band. Vendors from the community will also include the Bay Ridge Coop, the Greenmarket, GreenBrooklyn, Narrows Botanical Gardens, Gallery 364, doing a session with children on painting large trash drums to be placed in New York City parks, the Green Spa, doing vegan manicures, the FDNY Smoke House, talking fire prevention, and Alley Cat Exterminating, spreading information about green extermination, among others.

SWRA will also be showcasing the winners of their Green Youth Award Program, which called for student submissions from K-8 of projects that promote a greener community.

“I personally like the idea of reaching out to kids. It helps them create a lifetime habit of getting involved,” said McCown, whose expecting a greater turnout at this year’s festival as more groups are involved and more people know about it. “Everyone’s going green now,” she said. “It’s fashionable.”

Greening the Ridge 2009 will be June 14 at Veteran’s Memorial Pier at 69th Street in Bay Ridge from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., rain or shine. The event is free. For more information, go to or call 917-971-0007.

Performances of “What We Can See From Here” will be at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. A dance workshop will be held that day for children at noon with Jesse Phillips-Fein and Cassie Mey. They will also hold workshops for adults on June 13 at 9:30 a.m. at the Bay Ridge Senior Center (6935 Fourth Ave.) and for all ages on June 13 at 11 a.m. at The Storefront (6921 Fourth Ave.) All are free, and no dance experience is necessary. For more information, call 347-268-1012.


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