Death of Classical 2022-23 Review: Nightfall at Green-Wood Cemetery

By Jennifer Pyron

“Nightfall” returned this year at Green-Wood Cemetery with an exciting mix of local community members and attendees from all over. Death of Classical, the Afro Jazz Alliance, Rooftop Films, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Morbid Anatomy, and The Moth partnered with Green-Wood Cemetery to feature artists throughout this architecturally well-known National Historic Landmark, for an evening to be remembered.

Focused on memories of life, death and all that is beautiful in between, “Nightfall” inspired all dreamers to dream.

Magic Hour

The entrance gates opened at magic hour and revealed the famous archway in fuschia lights. Everyone stopped to take a photo before the sun set and the stars became our guides. The birds were still singing and nestling in for the night. They were a gentle reminder of how nature’s presence always makes for a beautiful experience. Just past the entrance, there was music playing and various paths were open for people to take and explore at their own will. An atmosphere of fun and excitement was stirring.

To the left of the entryway and up the first hill was the opening film installation by Rooftop Films. There was a single screen playing a black and white entitled ‘Energie!’ by Thorsten Fleisch (Germany). It featured an uncontrolled high voltage discharge of 30.000 volts exposing multiple sheets of photographic paper that were arranged in time to create a new visual system of electron organization. Accompanied with music by Jens Thiele, this was an experience that took one’s breath away. For me personally, all I could think about became all I was watching. The screen exploded into the veins of nature that were shadowy tree trunks, leaves and tombstones jutting up from the soft ground. I imagined the souls of the cemetery vibrating as one and lifting up together in unison. This film was shockingly skillful and captivating in its placement and delivery.

I traversed up the well-lit path, still on my left, and entered a darker part of the cemetery. I was drawn to an area of many silent trees. A bright screen came into view. ‘Gotham, MVT 2’ by filmmaker Bill Morrison (US) and composer Michael Gordon (US), became a colorful lantern of photographic stills from New York City’s past. I could also see the traffic lights in the distance that streamed along the busy streets, which included the Brooklyn Bridge. The symphonic aesthetic of the film translated well with how one could see lower Manhattan from this vantage point. The red, green, and white traffic lights below, danced and played along.

“Manhatta” by photographer and painter Charles Sheeler (US) and photographer Paul Strand (US), played next and revealed a 35mm film of 1920’s NYC full of life and beginnings. Made after Walt Whitman’s poem, “Mannahatta,” this film is cited as the first avant-garde film to have been made in America. Above this area was a large tree that hosted a video projection of Loïe Fuller dancing. Her motions shifted in sync with the wind. The gray skies and stars became her new backdrop. This concept was very imaginative and most inclusive with nature. One was able to breathe in and sway to the silence of this mapped film in peace. For me, I felt like I could fly and be held, at the same time, by a most special pair of arms. This is when the night sky opened its heart and beckoned me.  

“Solo Piano – NYC” by Anthony Sherin (US) was at the very top of the Gowanus Hills. Featuring the last 24 hours of a once-wanted piano, the film’s five minutes captured the interactions of passersby. One might have felt a thoughtful connection between this film and the surrounding monuments of Green-Wood Cemetery. I left with a feeling of impermanence and was reminded of how lucky I was to experience this night in person. I also enjoyed the minimal piano plucking composition that accompanied this film. It was dreamy and surreal.  

As I made my way down towards Meadow Ave, I heard a man’s voice welcoming everyone to the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. An ethereal woman dressed in white crinoline and led lights walked on stilts and floated above the crowd. A person on tightrope performed a routine to music in the background. A group of jugglers tossed and leapt about in a wild frenzy. There was laughter and joy abound!

On the other side of this area, a live music performance took place and members of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance played their instruments with gusto. Couples danced and/or found a spot to sit on the lawn to take it all in. At this point, the wind softened and one could really sink into their surroundings wherever they decided to be.

The Centerpiece

The Modern Chapel, originally designed by Warren and Wetmore in 1913, was the centerpiece for “Nightfall 2022.” This multifunctional and nondenominational Gothic limestone space, transformed into a stage for singer Daisy Press and dancer Liana Kleinman. Audience members gathered at the candle lined steps and were completely silent as Daisy’s voice emanated from within the illuminated chapel. She alternated between playing her crystal singing bowls and shruti boxes, as well as a whirly tube. Her works included songs from her album of Hildegard von Bingen chants, entitled ‘You Are the Flower,’ which was released September 9th on all streaming platforms. 

Liana Kleinman’s movements were poetic and vitally aligned with Daisy’s voice. The two synthesized a body of sound and movement that created a harmonious atmosphere for everyone from anywhere to enjoy. Daisy also made excellent use of the space’s resonance when she sang inside the chapel. Then, when she joined Liana Kleinman out on the steps and in the open air, her voice became intimately real. She sang to the listener’s core. One could tell this was a well thought-out collaboration. They performed in reverence to the powers of a soulful voice paired with a soulful dancer. This was an incredibly moving and healing performance.

Overall, “Nightfall” celebrated the highest purpose of communal gathering and reminded everyone about the beauty of life, death, and all that is in between.


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