In 1812 the British and American armies met for a second time in less than fifty years. While the colonies won their independence in the first war, all was not well. The War of 1812 could be considered the coda to the American Revolution. The American Revolution 2: Unresolved Issues. Fought over a two and a half year span, when all was said and done, the boundaries of the United States hadn’t changed, but other important issues were resolved. By late 1814 the war had moved into the Baltimore region. Several clashes took place in and around the critical port. In North Point, Hampstead Hill, and, most notably, Fort McHenry the two sides struggled for supremacy. It was at Fort McHenry that the American forces held off a rampaging British army who were fresh off a successful sacking of the White House in Washington D.C. It was also during this battle at Fort McHenry that our National Anthem was written by Francis Scott Key. Today, the typical tourist to Baltimore makes a beeline to the Inner Harbor. A few of them will venture a bit past the Maryland Science Center to Federal Hill which offers a stunning vista of the entire Inner Harbor. Those that make it this far might notice several monuments and markers on the hill commemorating activities during the War of 1812. To most, however, McHenry is merely the name of the tunnel and toll plaza on I-95. Of the estimated 29.4 million annual visitors to the city, only about 650,000 people a year manage to take the short trip further down Key Highway from the Inner Harbor to explore the fort itself. Even less visited, at least by the tourists, is Patterson Park. It is situated several miles away on the eastern outskirts of the city. The park provides a green space for residents to walk dogs and hipsters to play kickball. Joggers utilize the level paths all hours of the day. A pagoda was designed for the park in 1890 and offers views of the city. A portion of Patterson Park was once known as Hampstead Hill. The same Hampstead Hill where the Americans had set up their defenses back in September, 1814. Now, nearly 200 years later, on those same grounds in Patterson Park, a tribute to the War of 1812 took place. A water ballet tribute. It was a beautiful summer evening. A few puffy clouds drifted slowly high overhead. The typical oppressive humidity, so prevalent in Baltimore this time of year, was thankfully held at bay. The low 80’s temperatures were welcomed by the hundred plus people in attendance. At 6:30 we joined up with others converging upon a small building on the eastern side of the park. By 6:45 there were very few seats left. The evening began with the Dan Meyer Choir singing several songs honoring the participation of Baltimore in the War of 1812. As usual, any good act in Baltimore requires a Party City’s worth of glitter. A well prepared emcee came out and introduced the group that would be performing the tribute that night. The evening started with someone dressed up as Mary Pickersgill, the seamstress who sewed the flag that flew above Fort McHenry during the battle. Throughout the evening, Mary Pickersgill, in a dress adorned with holiday lights, would return to provide more illuminating information about the role of Baltimore in the War of 1812. This was a tribute that could only happen one place. This was a tribute crafted in the home of John Waters. This was a tribute that was uniquely Baltimore. This was Star Spangled Summer: A War of 1812 Water Ballet. Everyone in the pool cause it’s time to get patriotic! Water ballet typically brings to mind images of severe looking Eastern European girls moving in unison to classical music jazzed up and played by John Tesh. It conjures thoughts of synchronized movements while forming complex geometric shapes on the pool. This tribute was not performed by Eastern Europeans or Olympic athletes, though the shapes were no less geometric. It was performed by Fluid Movement. Fluid Movement is a performance art group that juxtaposes complex subject matter with delightful and unexpected mediums.
Fluid Movement creates art that is accessible, and often educational, for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. The show was broken up into several numbers, each highlighting an aspect of the War of 1812 with a uniquely Baltimore perspective. We first learned about Dolley Madison. This was followed up by some swimming Newsies and Mobsters and even more Swingin Seamstresses. Fluid Movement performances are created for urban spaces, including, evidently, an Olympic sized pool. Some acts could not be contained by the pool. No running with that cannon! Every show needs a hero … … and a villain. And a lifeguard??? Evidently the Hoff was had a prior engagement. Adding to the spectacle was the soundtrack. Pop culture classics dotted the playlist. Hits included the Wonder Woman theme and Abba. In this case, it was raining militia-men.
After a few more impressive displays in the pool, we reached the grand finale. Everyone was back in either a red, a white or a blue cap to create a giant flag. Both the audience members and the performers seemed to be having fun. Everyone was enjoying themselves. Except maybe this guy. The show was the perfect blend of camp, history and swimwear. Most importantly, this was FUN. Fluid Motion encourages a sincere understanding and appreciation for city life and city dwellers through their work. Mission accomplished. Now go out there and check out whatever it is they do next.
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