Never were injured peeping toms, murderous birds and psychotic sons such a joy to watch as they are in Fluid Movement’s “Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Water Ballet,” the 2018 summer production by the community-minded Baltimore performance art group.
Each year, Fluid Movement creates tongue-in-cheek synchronized swimming water ballets based on well-known subject matter. They’re performed by dozens of amateur swimmers and/or actors of all shapes, sizes and ages in public pools—this year at Druid Hill Park Pool on July 28 and 29 and Patterson Park Pool on August 3, 4 and 5.
It is one of those ideas that might not work anywhere but Baltimore, but boy does it work wonderfully in this weird and welcoming city.
This year’s “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” successfully continues the tradition. Segmented into five Hitchcock-themed scenes, the water ballet takes the legendary director’s thrillers and bops them on the nose with cheeky direction, committed performances and playful song choices.
“Alfred Hitchcock Presents” is narrated by Hitchcock, who is given a comic, spot-on portrayal by V Lee, who references her own gender and the real Hitchcock’s notoriously bad treatment of women throughout the show. Lee is supported by Hitchcock assistant Bea L. Eagered (Ashley Ball), who leads the feminist agenda of Fluid Movement’s show to a triumphant finale that involves the entire cast. (I lost count of the number of names listed in the program, which has beautiful show art by Baltimore artist Annie Howe.)
The opening “Psycho” scene’s effective direction by Rory Flanagan, Jan Pumphrey and Rick Wilson involves swimmers in shower caps as the Janet Leigh character converging in the pool with swimmers in Norman-as-Mother suits, who are especially foreboding as they slink in and advance through the water like hungry sharks. They then perform a synchronized routine with knife-stab swim strokes choreographed to the film’s music from the famous shower scene.
The second scene, “Dial M for Murder,” is the most adorable of the show. It’s mostly dialing and no murder, with kids in sparkly red suits and phone keys as swim caps dancing and swimming with rotary phones to Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s “Telephone.”
“The Running Man” is a mash-up of Hitchcock chase scenes, especially the famous
airplane chase scene in “North by Northwest.” (Sunday’s evening show featured a Druid Hill
Park Pool lifeguard as the plane.) Performers in plastic Cary Grant hair and loose-hanging neckties escape in and around the pool from performers dressed as police officers. The scene, directed by Valarie Perez-Schere and Regina Shock, is an impressive production, complete with moving scenery by crankie artist Matt Muirhead–if there’s a performance art prop Baltimoreans love more than puppets, it’s crankies–and the largest cast of any of the scenes, with more than 20 performers.
While Hitchcock’s “The Birds” inspires terror, Fluid Movement’s “The Birds” inspires guffaws. An actor costumed as Tippi Hedren with a blonde wig and celadon green suit is surrounded by actors outfitted as black birds with googly eye swim caps and purple and orange feathers as the Carpenters’ love song “Close to You” begins to play: “Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near.” Within moments, the Tippi actor sheds her suit, dives into the pool, and becomes the point of a flying V filled out by bird swimmers in hot pursuit to the tune of Fiona Apple’s “Fast as You Can.” Directed by Caitlin Bouxsein and Faith Savill, the scene is hilarious.
Based on the voyeuristic Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly thriller “Rear Window”, the fifth scene also has some inspired song selections, like Love and the Outcome’s contemporary version of “I’ll Be Watching You” and Destiny’s Child anthem “Independent Women, Part 1.” Like the other scenes, the costumes in “Rear Window” are clever, congruous and functional. Performers with gray-streaked swimming caps a la Stewart’s hair shed blue button-ups and crutches to swim with white spandex “casts,” while their counterparts play the Grace Kelly role in swimsuits trimmed with “pearls.”
Fluid Movement’s “Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Water Ballet” has enough references to delight fans of the director’s work. Even for those only vaguely familiar with the likes of “Psycho” or “The Birds,” Fluid Movement’s enthusiastic cast, creative storytelling and unique performance make for great summer entertainment.
“Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Water Ballet” has performances at Patterson Park Pool on Aug. 3, 4 and 5. For tickets and more information, visit wordpress.fluidmovement.org. The show runs about one hour.