The summer of ’99 saw Fluid Movement’s Baltimore beginnings. Its birth was also a rebirth—it helped rekindle community interest in East Baltimore’s Patterson Park. The collective’s DIY spirit and all-age-appropriate themes reach a crowd beyond that of the typical hip young masses of performance art audiences. But they still made it cool to hang out in Patterson again.
Fluid Movement’s shows are generally action and humor packed. In the summer, they swim. In the winter, they skate. Their fun-loving attitude is augmented by the fact that they are an all-inclusive community. They don’t even hold auditions–if you show interest, you’re in, even if it means you have to wear floaties.
Said a longstanding member of the movement, Valarie Perez-Schere (Val), “I know that on a personal level and on a group level, that ‘everyone’s included’ ethos is pervasive in everything that we do.” Val found Fluid Movement through the Patterson Park. “I was in the area doing marketing…it was my job to market events.” She heard that Trixie Little was gathering some friends to perform some water ballet nearby. “When I heard about it, I immediately knew. I had to be a part of it.” From the very first show, the group realized they were onto something. They decided to become a nonprofit.
Val has been a performer since she was a child, raised on a steady diet of Esther Williams and classic musicals. Other members, however, know virtually nothing about performance upon deciding to join the troupe. Despite their varied level of expertise, they maintain their integrity. Simply put, their shows are always enjoyable. And their healthy degree of camp and weirdness is leveled by their simple desire to revitalize interest in the city’s public spaces. We daresay, it’s going swimmingly.
“I think that’s one of those things where the process is all part of the piece; where just having us showing up every…and being present can help reoccupy a space,” said Val, who noted that Patterson was pretty decrepit when they began working there.
Before they head back to the Patterson to perform, you can catch Fluid Movement at Druid Hill Park this Saturday and Sunday. “I think we help people reinvestigate places they’ve written off as unsafe or unpleasant,” said Val about their new location. “When we started there, people would be like, I don’t know about that area, and it was just like, when was the last time you were in Druid Hill? I think this is a good chance to…see how much work has gone into these public spaces since.”
Fluid Movement’s current piece, Rebel Teen From Starship 12: An Extraterrestrial Water Ballet, is sure to draw in crowds and live up to their wacky standards. Like all of their shows, Rebel Teen is completely original. All the work is internal to the troupe itself—they write the script, direct the scenes, and make the costumes.
“It’s kind of a road trip story,” said Val about the new piece, which details an angsty teenaged girl’s argument with her mom and subsequent accidental launch into outerspace. “It’s been really fun. Water ballet really really lends itself to outerspace scenes, what with the whole floaty thing.” She explained how directors break the cast up into individual scenes, and how each scene rehearses in a different pool. Segways and narrators create cohesion between otherwise separate entities. It’s a long process, “but it’s been really fantastic.”
Some of the rehearsal process and other preparations for Rebel Teen are documented on their blog. Candid shots of folks in inner tubes are displayed with a refreshing earnestness that’s uncharacteristic of many performance art collectives. You can even see members painting their own sets and learning the moves they show off in the pool. Their shows are wrought with ironic humor, but Fluid Movement’s members aren’t afraid to showcase the work that goes into making sure their audiences have a great time.
When they’re not performing for the greater Baltimore area, Fluid Movement also hosts workshops. Never the possessive type, they aim to enable any and all who are interested to learn synchronized swimming and water ballet. This past June, they held their very first open swim meet. On two Saturday mornings, the Druid Hill Park’s pool filled with enthusiasts eager to form synchronized circles and learn the skulling arm stroke. The crowd was mostly made up of those formerly involved, but some left having learned something new.
Fluid Movement’s performances are educational, too, if only incidentally. Earlier this year, they infiltrated the part of West Baltimore that was once known as “The Hub.” The show on Lexington and Howard skimmed over the West Side’s history of tightly knit community, commerce, fashion and activism. Through a performance. On roller skates. A surface reading of history was provided, but the substance of the show was clearly the performance itself. One might say that the subject matter covered in their acts are just vessels for entertainment. But the collective did, again, draw the attention of hundreds to a forgotten spot for entertainment, if not enlightenment. In some ways, this itself is a feat.
If nothing else, Fluid Movement aims to liberate. It liberates neighborhoods from misconceptions and outdated ideas. It liberates performance art from its norms, making crowds “turn their heads a little bit.” More obviously, it liberates its performers, because “once you’ve gotten in a unitard in front of a thousand people, you kind of don’t sweat the small stuff about you’re little imperfections in your body.” Val spoke of the many members of Fluid Movement who, upon conquering their fear of performance and humiliation, are forever changed. “I don’t want to oversell it, but I know that it can be a transformative experience for people.” In case you have to see it to believe it, this weekend, your chance is here.
Image from Fluid Movement’s 2011 Mobtown Murder Mystery -Photo by Theresa Keil