'Water Works'

Back to the splash dance

'Water Works'
Photo courtesy of Scott Van Osdol

Once upon a time, one of the best stages in town was Barton Springs Pool. That's because every three or four years, Dee McCandless and Gene Menger would take a couple dozen swimsuit-clad performers and present a dance around and in its chilly waters. These aquatic ballets were somewhere between a synchronized swimming routine in an Esther Williams musical and a game of follow-the-leader at a kids' pool party. Dancers would march through the shallows in a conga line and lie on the rocks on their backs, their upturned arms and legs undulating like underwater grasses. They'd form a circle and hit the water in sequence to make a running wave. And most often and most delightfully, they'd parade around imitating assorted animals: apes, seals, crabs, frogs, flamingos, dolphins, elephants .... Not since Ovid have there been so many magical metamorphoses. Water Works celebrated what this city loves about the springs: the natural beauty of the rocks, the trees, the sloping emerald lawns, and the sparkling waters; the playfulness they inspire and also the deep feeling of relaxation and calm; and the shared sense of this site as a communal gathering place for an entire city.

It's been years since Menger and McCandless have staged a Water Works, but now they can be enjoyed again through a video record of the performances from 1985 and 1996. They're a choice reminder of how special and fun these shows were, especially the earlier one, which was filmed on a sunny afternoon when the pool was still full of swimmers. The work becomes a piece of guerrilla theatre, unexpected and unexplained, with other bathers looking on in puzzlement and pleasure as all these people suddenly bend at the waist and begin waddling and quacking like ducks or turn forward flips, slapping the water with their legs. Such random acts of creativity were once fairly common here, and it's lovely to see one preserved. You can see it for yourself when Water Works: Dances at Barton Springs Pool is screened Thursday, Oct. 15, 7 & 9pm, at the Independent @ 501 Studios, Fifth & Brushy streets. DVDs will be for sale. For more information, call 476-2548 or e-mail gno@ideality.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Water Works, Dee McCandless, Gene Menger, Barton Springs Pool, Austin dance

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