Fluid Movement’s Science Fair!: The Water Ballet reviewed by Sage Viscovi
The last time I attended a water ballet was in 2009 at the Strathmore Vanderbilt Country Club in Manhasset, New York. Since it was held at one of Long Island’s many ritzy country clubs, the show was high-tech, uber professional, and glamorous from start to finish.
This event shaped my definition of water ballet; I saw it as the ultimate display of beauty, elegance, and athleticism in perfect synchronicity. But upon viewing Baltimore-based performance art group Fluid Movement in action for the first time, I realized that the art of the water ballet can be so much more than that.
Fluid Movement’s 2015 water ballet, Goldblum – homage to the films of actor Jeff Goldblum
Fluid Movement juxtaposes complex subject matter with delightful and unexpected mediums. They create art that is accessible, and often educational, for audiences of all ages and backgrounds, and their performances are created for urban spaces, in Baltimore and beyond. They encourage a sincere understanding and appreciation for city life and city dwellers through their work.
This year, Fluid Movement presents its 15th annual synchronized swimming spectacular: Science Fair!: The Water Ballet. Audiences witness the scientific wonders of student-developed reanimated corpses, post- apocalyptic wastelands, space travel, time travel, and the love affairs between the elements that make up our world. This educational rite of passage is presented via multi-disciplinary methods including choreography, comedy, and special effects, all blended with glitter, chlorine, and spandex.
My experience with Science Fair! came in an unexpected two segments. The first was my sad attempt at attending their Saturday show on July 30th at Druid Hill Park Pool, which was unfortunately cancelled after the horrific flash floods began only minutes prior to my arrival. The audience was patient and dedicated, even as the line stretched around the entire perimeter of the pool hall. I went home and tried again the next evening, to a much bigger success.
Fluid Movement president, Valarie Perez-Schere
Venturing inside the pool area, there were bleachers set up all around as well as a large sign at the front of the stage reading “Robert L. Drake Jr. Middle School 17th Annual Science Fair!”, a tribute to longtime Fluid Movement supporter Mr. Bobby who passed away in January. Fluid Movement president Valarie Perez-Schere opened up the show with an introductory “pre-show” which involved the pool’s junior lifeguards showing off tricks on the diving board.
Then the big show began. The fair’s sassy, extravagant host, Ms. Waters (played by Kay-Megan Washington, who has previously acted with Baltimore Shakespeare Factory, Stillpointe Theatre, Laurel Mill Playhouse, and Spotlighters Theater) introduced the acts.
The show’s first scene, entitled “Out of Gas”, was directed by Eva Farrell and Katie Leser and tested the hypothesis: How can we put a shine on our energy future? The act had a toxic, post-apocalyptic theme, and the performers sported gas masks as they entered from all corners of the space. Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” boomed through the speakers as they performed a slow choreographed dance that picked up into a psychedelic spectacle that definitely got me, sat in the first row, a bit wet! This is when I realized that my preconceived notions about water ballets were inaccurate: while Strathmore’s performance looked effortless from a
distance, water ballet actually takes a lot of hard work and coordination up close!
Scene two: “Reanimation: Brides and Monsters”
The next scene, entitled “Reanimation: Brides and Monsters”, was directed by Kirsten Brinlee, Margaret Hart, and Joe Meduza. It theorized: What if all you needed to find your mate were some spare body parts, a brain, and electricity? The choreography picked up in this funky Frankenstein-themed dance, showing off their impressive formations to the tune of 60s hit “The Monster Mash”. They finished their humorously geeky performance with Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, splitting into five smaller formations.
Next was “Mr. Trash Wheel”, directed by Laura Knapp and Kelly Quinn, which was an accolade to the revolutionary water wheel floating in Baltimore’s Harbor East. Ms. Waters opened this act with a couple of trash facts in relation to the hypothesis: What is the effectiveness of a rotary debris collection device in an urban waterway? Then, the dancers entered clad in trash-inspired fish costumes. As Modest Mouse’s “Float On” sounded, the performers created landmine-esque formations as a large fiber snake-like creature was dragged around them. Shifting into Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)”, a positively adorkable, dancing Mr. Trash Wheel appeared onstage to filter out the pool’s “garbage”.
Following this was “Project Spudnik”, directed by Kelly Causey and Rachel Kassman, which focused in on the question: Will there be sufficient nutrition?: Testing Martian soil for potato chip viability. At this time, I would like to give a shout-out to the costume designer for this production, because I was wowed by the beautifully crafted sunflower costumes! The sunflowers brought their timid bud counterparts into the water, where they joined forces to help teach the buds grow. A cardboard cutout of Matt Damon’s character from The Martian was then brought out at the end, and while this was an odd blend of themes, it did make me really want to go swimming.
The next scene, “A Unified Field Theory Combining Gravity and Electromagnetism”, directed by Emily Aubrey and James Brumfield, asks us: If Nikola Tesla and Sir Isaac Newton met at a party, would they come up with a theory of everything? The show’s youngest performers took us on a journey through time, as they transformed from historical figures to colorful electrons in seconds (seriously, one of the speediest quick changes I’ve ever seen and I’ve been in theatre for many years). During their performance, I thought to myself: How long do these formations actually take to learn? Given the children were quite young, I was dazzled by how organized they were. Preciously, the act ended with the electrons “short-circuiting”.
Scene six: “Procrastination”
The last scene before the finale was titled “Procrastination”, appropriately named since there appeared to be no individual director and the number’s introduction relied on audience participation. Two members were selected to arrange the six swimmers into molecule pairs, to which they succeeded. This excitable number was a display of love that started off romantic and may have ended rather… low-key sexual? Is this acceptable behavior at a community pool? Well it happened, so I suppose it is!
The finale, “Poetry in Motion”
And finally came the finale, entitled “Poetry in Motion” and directed by Jane Osbourne. I have not seen a pool with that many occupants since my days as a camp counselor. The performance was feel good and splashy, and really exhibited how much community support there is in Charm City as the crowd cheered at the final dive.
Thank you, Fluid Movement, for showing me that it doesn’t solely take flashy dance moves to pull off a stellar show… just a lot of water and a whole bunch of heart. I’d give this project a big, soaking “A”!
Author Sage Viscovi is a recent MICA graduate and theater critic for BmoreArt.
Photos by Tim Nohe, Vincent Vizachero, and Sage Viscovi