Thursday, April 5, 2018

With all the frills upon it

Spring snow. Photo: JH.
Thursday, April 5, 2018.  A wet, damp and sometimes rainy day yesterday in New York, with temperatures reaching up into the high 50s, fallin back into the 40s by nightfall.

In your Easter bonnet,
With all the frills upon it,
You’ll be the grandest lady
In the Easter Parade ...

Irving Berlin wrote that lyric in 1933 for his song “The Easter Parade” for the Broadway musical with a book by Moss Hart, “As Thousands Cheer.” In 1948, MGM came out with a film they called “The Easter Parade,” with an entirely different book starring Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Peter Lawford. It was MGM’s highest grossing musical film that year. It featured Berlin’s famous songs and depicted an early 20th century fashion parade up and down Fifth Avenue which traditionally took place after the church services.

I’m not sure anyone took me to see the picture when it opened  because I was a little kid, but I’ve seen the film more than once on television, and was mainly interested in watching the musical numbers of Garland and Astaire.
The Easter parade has been an American cultural event dating back to the end of the 18th century in Pennsylvania when German immigrant farm families observed Easter Monday and changed into some kind of finery to observe the Resurrection of Christ.

The tradition dates back to early Christianity in Europe when Christians would gather at a certain place in their towns and make a solemn walk to their church of the still new religion. You might even call it political at that time for it was the “Christians” demonstrating their solidarity with this new religion publicly as well as perhaps interesting new members.

By the 1890s in New York, however, when Fifth Avenue was an almost entirely residential avenue from Washington Square to 58th Street with the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion, the Easter Parade became a social tradition with participants like the families who lived in the mansions along what was then upper Fifth Avenue (from the 30s up to Central Park). Persons participating in an Easter parade traditionally dressed in new and fashionable clothing, particularly  ladies' hats, and strove to impress others with their finery.
Looking south along Fifth Avenue at 51st Street. The first two mansions are the Willliam Vanderbilt houses, and then on the corner (52nd Street) is the William K. Vanderbilt house.
Although the Easter parade was and is most closely associated with Fifth Avenue in New York City, Easter parades were held in many other cities. Starting as a spontaneous event in the 1870s, the New York parade became increasingly popular into the mid-20th century — in 1947, for example, it was estimated to draw more than a million people. Since then its popularity has declined significantly, drawing only maybe a thousand or two this year.

When I was a kid growing up in a small town in Massachusetts, Easter was noticeable to me because all of the women and girls who went to church on that day, dressed for the occasion. We boys wore suits and ties, and polished our shoes. In memory, even the young girls wore outfits that said “Easter,” in colors like those we dyed on the eggs for our Easter baskets. Interestingly, this “habit” can be attributed to early Christianity with the introduction of elaborate Easter ceremonies — including gaudy dress and display of personal finery —  to the Roman Emperor Constantine I  in the early part of the 4th century, when he "ordered his subjects to dress in their finest and parade in honor of  Christ’s resurrection.

From the 1880s through the 1950s, however, New York's Easter parade was one of the main cultural expressions of Easter in the United States. In the mid-19th century, these and other churches, for example, began decorating their sanctuaries with Easter flowers. 
As Mr. Berlin continued his lyric ...

On the avenue, Fifth Avenue,
The photographers will sap us,
And you’ll find that you’re
In the rotogravure….

Beginning in the 1880s, the annual procession had held an important place on New York's calendar of festivities, The press publicity had become very important. The Easter parade was a vast spectacle of fashion and religious observance. People would stroll from their own church up and down the avenue. People from the poorer and middle classes would observe the parade just to learn the latest trends in fashion.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the culture had changed dramatically. Christianity itself had faded from the intensity of its presence.

In 2001 when JH and I started the New York Social Diary online, we covered the now so-called Easter Parade down in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Surprising to these eyes, the procession had mainly narrowed to a number of drag queens got up as “fashionable” women on parade. I specifically recall one who in an soft sky-blue dress, coat, hat and heels that distinctly recalled Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It was quite an affecting portrayal of England’s then still living Queen Mother, and was not only amusing but also reverant especially because so many of the actual women present were wearing leisure clothes.

This year, Pierre Crosby, who some readers will remember for his coverage last year of the abundance of empty stores on Madison Avenue, and later for his coverage of a first time trip to Havana today, covered the “parade” here in New York. As you can see, change is not only in the air, but it has enveloped the culture entirely. It speaks as all creativity speaks today, of a far different world and society, a sign of the times.
And the show must go on ... This past March 21st, in spite of the snowstorm, the Stephen Petronio dance company hosted its 2018 Benefit Gala honoring and lifelong patron of dance Sylvia Drulie Mazzola and fashion visionary Patricia Field at the Joyce Theater here in New York.

The evening featured the 4th season of Bloodlines, a five-year autobiographical project that not only honors the lineage of American postmodern dance, but also traces the influences and impulses that have shaped choreographer Stephen Petronio.
An impressive array of intrepid guests who attended included: Willem Dafoe, Darren Star, Iris Bonner with Ephilos Pendergrass, James Keith (JK) Brown and Eric Diefenbach, George Farias, benefit co-chairs Alison Mazzola and Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz with husband Steven Wine, Tambra Dillon, Renate Aller, Ed Henry and Susan Monk, Harold Koda and Alan Kornberg, Michael Volpe aka Clams Casino, Jedediah Wheeler and his niece Veve Wheeler Brown, William S. Wright II, Alex and Fern Forger, John Cantrell, Jean Stone, and Tad Flynn with daughter Christina.

The program included the world premiere of Petronio’s Hardness 10, the third collaboration between Petronio and composer Nico Muhly. The new work featured costumes by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, in her first collaboration with the Company.
Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz and Stephen Wine Michele Saunders, Patricia Field, and Gina Costanza
Sylvia and Alison Mazzola
Another highlight was Merce Cunningham’s playful and indeterminate Signals (1970), a 20-minute work for six dancers. Completing the program was an excerpt from Petronio’s darkly abstract Underland (2003) titled Wild Wild World that was inspired by the music of post-punk, Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave.

Following the performance, guests who included Richard Feldman and Jon Nathanson, board members Jean-Marc Flack, Claire Flack, Ken Tabachnick, Spoleto Festival head Nigel Redden, Mandie Erickson, Howard and Sara Erichson, R. Couri Hay with Rachel Heller, enjoyed dinner and a live auction followed by dancing to DJ David Katz at the Kola House restaurant and club on West 15th Street, while photographer Patrick McMullan snapped away.
Allen Greenberg
Iris Bonner and Erick Pendergrass
Willem Dafoe Michael Robinson
Jean Stone
Maddie Braun and Michelle d'Arcambal
Harold Koda
Tad Flynn, Billy Wright, and George Farias
Genevive Wheeler Brown and Jedediah Wheeler
Sylvia Mazzola, Stephen Petronio, and Patricia Field
Nigel Redden and Joanna Delson
Ken Tabachnick
John Cantrell and George Farias
Stephen Petronio and Christina Flynn
Jean-Marc Flack and Claire Flack
Stephen Petronio Company

Contact DPC here.