After two COVID-induced years on dry land, the synchronized swimmers of Baltimore’s campiest water ballet are once again backstroking, flutter-kicking and hamming it up big time this summer.
The theme for the latest installment of the Fluid Movement show is “Yacht Rocket! A Synchronized Swimming Space Spectacular,” and audiences at Riverside Park and Patterson Park pools can expect plenty of smooth seventies songs and riffs on mustachioed icons Burt Reynolds and the Captain (you know, of Captain and Tennille).
If there’s meaning in this madness, it surely must be that love will keep us together. Even after two years apart.
In March 2020, during the planning stage but before rehearsals for that year’s show, COVID blew the lifeguard whistle and pulled everyone out of the pools. During a pause that stretched from one summer to two, Fluid Movement moved to smaller but nicer headquarters, and kept its creative energy and connections flowing with events like dance classes that were online in 2020 and in person the following summer.
Artistic director Valarie Perez-Schere, a Fluid Movement founding member, says she never considered shutting down the beloved annual show, even though it’s always a ton of work.
“I am anxious and nervous but that’s par for the course,” she says. “It’s a huge project. Especially this past year, people would say the one thing getting me through [the pandemic] is knowing we’re going to do a water ballet this year. That’s a lot of pressure. It’s got to be incredible or it’s not worth doing.”
Starting in 1999, the nonprofit each year brings together about 75 swimmers of all ages and abilities, and over the course of the summer molds a ragtag group of volunteers into a well-oiled — and heavily costumed — aquatic machine.
The genius, beauty and challenge of Fluid Movement is that all swimmers are welcome, as long as they are willing to spend a couple of summer nights a week rehearsing. “We’ll work with you wherever you’re at and we’ll make you shine at a show,” says Ashley Ball, a longtime Fluid Movement participant who is heavily involved in this year’s show.
Perez-Schere, Ball and others need to dream up costumes, create shows that accommodate various aquatic skill levels, and find that sweet balance between rigorous choreography and plain silliness. “It’s not like putting on a play, where you can buy a script,” says Perez-Schere.
The show also leans on a troupe of non-swimming poolside performers who bring laughs and story structure to the proceedings. Themes over the years have included science fairs, War and Peace, and the War of 1812.
Perez-Schere and Ball say they wanted this year’s show to be an escape from politics and pandemic. They started with the idea that the troupe could literally leave our burning, angry planet aboard a cruise ship.
“Then we realized we would need a lot of people on the cruise ship, we had a limitation on microphones,” says Ball. “So now it’s a yacht. From that, we were kicking around names and we both thought it would be fun to give directors the challenge to use yacht rock songs. I think it’s turned into something really silly, not something we’ve seen before.”
The show is divided into six segments, including one featuring children who learn their moves in a two-week summer camp.
Some things, inevitably, changed. New protocols at city recreation and parks pools requiring time-slot registration added a layer of flotsam to the proceedings. A climbing wall at the renovated Druid Hill Park Pool meant there was no longer room to roll in audience bleachers. Rehearsals are still there, but the shows are moving to pools at Riverside Park and Patterson Park.
For all the logistics and hassles, there seems to be a palpable joy that the show is once again afloat. “We are creating this experience that’s not like anything else. It is this piece of magic, it’s a bit of a spell that we cast,” says Perez-Schere.
As always, it promises to be an inclusive, entertaining and quintessentially Baltimore event. And as always, each show will end with the immortal words: “We are Fluid Movement, and So Are You.”
If you go: “YACHT ROCKET! A Synchronized Swimming Space Spectacular,” will be at Riverside Park Pool July 30 and 31, and Patterson Park Pool Aug. 5-7.
Tickets are $5-$10, or $20 for the night shows on Aug. 5 and 6. Tickets can be purchased online at this link. You CAN buy tickets as a walk-in, but it’s risky because the shows often sell out. Also, no cash for either tickets or for the fun merchandise, which this year includes a Fluid Movement fanny pack. Oh, and if you volunteer as a ticket-collector, you get a T-shirt and free admission.