Usually when you think about Morningside Park at night you’re reading a security alert from Public Safety. Or you’re imagining hanging out with all the feral cats that live there. Yesterday night, however, Morningside Park was teeming with different creatures: the “sea-floor fantasy of luminescent life forms” created by the illuminated puppets of the second annual Morningside Lights procession.
The procession, “The Luminous Deep”, inspired by the waters of Hurricane Sandy, began at 8 pm from the lookout at Morningside and 116th, descended into the park, wrapped around the bottom and made its way back to College Walk. There were a couple hundred people in attendance, mostly families from the neighborhood. I spotted a mermaid, a narwhal, a yellow submarine, some kind of radical manatee and a small jellyfish towed by a little girl among the colorful creatures.
There were about thirty puppets in all, which had been built in the week leading up the parade in workshops at the Miller Theatre led by Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles, artists and creative directors of Processional Arts Workshop. The largest lanterns were carried by three puppeteers and lit with constantly changing color.
At certain spots along the route, the lantern carriers paused to swirl in choreographed chaos. Squids spun, stingrays glided and fish bobbed over the heads of delighted children and parents. Eery music, composed by Nathan Davis and performed by parade volunteers, added to the surreal beauty. Volunteers carried speakers which bubbled, plinged and echoed while others blew conch shells with impressive volume.
The procession was so amazing that it gave me a rare rush of Columbia pride. The people at the Miller Theatre and the Arts Initiative at Columbia put a lot of effort into creating a great experience for the community and bringing something special to a park with an undeservedly shady reputation. We don’t often hear about the University doing much for Morningside Heights except buying properties and pushing people out of their homes. I asked one volunteer, a Columbia student who worked at the Miller Theatre, why the procession took place in Morningside Park instead of Riverside. “We’re in Morningside Heights” she pointed out. Next year I hope that there are more Columbia students waiting for the procession when it gets to College Walk.