Performance merges arts and science to explore water concerns

Luther College production tells story through dance and video

Students at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, are combining dance, live music and video, merging the arts and science, to influence how people think about water use. The interdisciplinary performance "Body of Water," March 5-7, is one result of a biology and dance teaching partnership at Luther. In this project, dance and video reveal the sacredness of water, this essential molecule and elixir of life, while acknowledging challenges and solutions surrounding water usage and quality within the Dry Run Creek Watershed in northeast Iowa, Decorah, and the broader community.

"Body of Water" performances will be 9:30 p.m. Thursday, March 5; 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 6; and 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 7, in the Jewel Theatre, Center for the Arts, on the Luther College campus. Tickets are $12, available through the Luther Ticket Office, (563) 387-1357, (800) 458-8437, or

Audiences are encouraged to arrive a half-hour early to view an exhibit highlighting the experiences and findings of the science and dance research in the Dry Run Creek Watershed. The exhibit will include detailed data on the watershed, preliminary data on Decorah urban water research, video and a live dance element. There will also be maps of the area on which viewers can place a pin where they live and read about water issues in their area.

Grant committee members at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, co-sponsor of the performances, said the endeavor is "both innovative and important, and that using the arts to communicate about agricultural issues may be key to helping Iowans change both their attitudes and practices as they relate to water." To help viewers establish an affinity for water issues at a personal level, the performance incorporates sensory experiences through everyday expressions of water—washing hands, taking a drink, floating in water, or crying. Senior dance major Jenn Schmidt said, "We want to take ordinary movement and show how it evolves in an extraordinary, storytelling way. Then, the next time you do these daily movements, you'll remember those imaginative moments, and the performance—and the message—will have more impact."

The teaching partnership between dance professor Jane Hawley and biology professor Jodi Enos-Berlage began in 2006. Enos-Berlage began using movement to teach scientific concepts and Hawley used standard science research methods as a framework for her dance students' research. "Our dancers create procedures to convey ideas," Hawley said of Luther's dance program. So when she decided to create a dance project about water, Hawley wanted her students to understand water in a profound way, down to its molecular activity, and that's where Enos-Berlage came in.

Hawley's dance practicum class joined Enos-Berlage's microbiology class on a tour last fall of the 20,000-acre Dry Run Creek watershed, which Enos-Berlage has been researching since 2010. Enos-Berlage, who is also a farm owner in the watershed, challenged the students to think about how and where water flows and how the use of the surrounding land affects both the amount of water flowing and what's in it. Along the tour, they talked about concerns about water quality and tried to identify conservation practices employed by area farmers that would have a positive impact on water quality.

"Body of Water" incorporates brief videos narrated by Enos-Berlage. The videos will explore the essential nature of water and how we interact with it; the Dry Run Creek droplets from molecular makeup to their Mississippi River journey to the Gulf of Mexico; challenges to maintaining good water quality; and potential solutions.  Enos-Berlage and videographer Ian Carstens interviewed Decorah- area farmers and community members, focusing on their concerns and connections with water. The pre-performance and performance videos include these community voices, Enos-Berlage said, so that it isn't only the performers and scientists speaking to the audience. Water quality is a community concern that requires community-based solutions, and the performance will reflect that, she said.

The performance is funded in part by Luther's Visual and Performing Arts department, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the Winneshiek County Soil and Water Conservation District, Decorah Bank and Trust, and Luther's Center for Sustainable Communities.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,400, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit

Performances of "Body of Water" are March 5-7
Luther students and Professor Enos-Berlage collecting water samples.
Jodi Enos-Berlage, Luther professor of biology