Water ballet surfaces in Patterson Park

That's entertainment: It's a first for Southeast Baltimore and maybe not all that synchronized. Esther Williams would have a stroke.

July 30, 1999|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

Charlie Doble looks like the Falstaff of synchronized swimming as he rehearses for today's water ballet at the Patterson Park pool.

He's well-rounded, a bit grizzled and good-humored. He's 49, a construction estimator for the Neighborhood Housing Services, and he's wearing the blue trunks with the red sequins that are his ballet costume.

"We're not really synchronized," he says. "We're damn near close to drowning, but we're having a great time."

Eight guys, six women and a dozen kids practice in the deep-water pool for "Water Shorts!," "the first-ever water ballet in Southeast Baltimore," which will be performed today at 6: 30 p.m. and tomorrow at 5: 30 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Sponsored by the Friends of Patterson Park, Fells Point Creative Alliance, the Bureau of Parks and Recreation and others too important to mention, "Water Shorts!" is so neighborhood-, family- and community-oriented it's downright populist. But to a casual observer its greatest diversity may be in the shape of its swimmers.

"It's a real cross section of people -- an insurance guy, a couple of teachers," Doble says. "I've never done anything like this before. Somebody told me about it, I showed up for practice, and I stuck with it. It's been a lotta fun."

Keri Burneson, the lithe 24-year-old director who created "Water Shorts!" with her young performance group Fluid Movement, wears the feminine version of Doble's sequins, a single braid down her back and very, very hip shades that look as if they were designed by George Lucas if not Giorgio Armani. A fine arts graduate of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, she's an instructor with the Living Classrooms Foundation, the harbor-oriented program for young people in Fells Point.

Her water ballet has evolved into a suite of eight movements dealing with life's passages from play, work, union and family to celebration, conflict, death and regeneration.

"We sort of wanted a community narrative idea," Burneson says, as she gets ready for a pool-side dress rehearsal. "And we tried to do a range of things that were applicable to any age.

"We tend to do a real mixture," she says, "part dance, part theater, part synchronized swimming, part just goofy stuff."

The inspiration for "Water Shorts!" is Esther Williams, everybody's patron saint of synchronized swimming, and her 1949 film, "Neptune's Daughter," which incidentally introduced Frank Loesser's song "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

They even patterned a move they call "the Ricesther," based on a routine Williams and Ricardo Montalban do in the movie.

Burneson says her own swimming's OK.

"I'm not the leader of the pack, but I can keep up."

She recruited Brendan Welch, 32, who's got a master of fine arts in theater.

"Keri asked me if I could swim. I said `sure' " he says. "I've done quite a lot of movement performance. But I've never done it underwater."

He's in several scenes, but he thinks the "Conflict" episode is a lot of fun. It's a sort of water polo rumble between two gangs, like aquatic Sharks and Jets in a watery "West Side Story."

"I'm a lot healthier for doing this," Welch says. "I've lost weight. I've got a good suntan. It's a good summery thing to do."

The kids are being coached by Will Backstrom, 34, who's a home ownership coordinator for the Patterson Park Neighborhood Initiative. He's got 10 girls right now and a trio of boys who are more or less on probation because they've only come to practice irregularly.

"I've learned the girls seem to listen to mothers better than they do me. I'm sort of considered the choreographer, but I'm letting the moms lead us."

They're Bonnie Ginn, Earlene Atkins and Joyce Peery, and they all live in neighborhoods around the park. Their daughters tried out one Saturday about eight weeks ago.

"They said they liked it, and here we are," Ginn says.

"It's a lot of fun," Peery says. "It gets the kids used to the deep water. I can't wait to see the show."

Atkins' daughter, Crystal, 10, is in the "Family" scene.

"She said to me `Mom, I'm the baby that drowns. Don't worry if you see me drowning.' I'm glad she told me. I would have been jumping in the water."

Tonight it's all going to come together somehow, promises Keri Burneson. It may not be Olympic-quality synchronized swimming, but it'll be Patterson Park neighborly. No one's a star; everything's folksy. You can get homemade lemonade pool-side, and there will be a bake sale.

"It's going to work miraculously," Burneson predicts. "It's going to be great."

'Water Shorts!'

Where: Patterson Park Pool, off Linwood Avenue, between Eastern Avenue and Baltimore Street.

When: 6:30 p.m. today; 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. tomorrow

Tickets: $3

Call: 410-276-3676

Pub Date: 7/30/99

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