The elixir of life: an invitation

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

Water—one of the simplest molecules on earth, is the basis for all life, and this requirement is non-negotiable. The great mystery then, is how we humans have allowed this sacred molecule to become one of the most polluted substances on earth, and what we should do to solve this problem. 

Six years ago, an ISU Extension representative called me to ask if I would be interested in leading a water quality monitoring effort in an impaired 20,000-acre watershed in Northeast Iowa. I was a scientist and an educator who grew up on a farm. I had read about the many water quality problems in Iowa. In fact, I lived in this impaired watershed, and knew my farm might be contributing to the problem. I said yes. 

What began as project to collect water quality data then evolved into something much bigger—sharing data and forming relationships with local farmers, using that data to secure funding for water quality improvement practices, developing a three-week, water-focused laboratory in my microbiology course, six years of water quality research involving over 15 undergraduate students, eight presentations and publications, and finally, an amazing collaboration with a dancer, a musician and a cinematographer at Luther College that resulted in Body of Water.

Body of Water is an original performance that intermixes dance, music and video components. Art and science are intentionally interwoven to create an end product more powerful than the sum of its parts—the liberal arts in action, if you will. The overall goal was to reveal the sacredness of this essential molecule and elixir of life. The challenge of this collaborative experiment was to create an effective dialogue among the disciplines while also maintaining the integrity and unique contributions of each—no single component was allowed to dominate. While the videos tell the story of the essentialness of water, its geographic connectivity, its chemistry and biology, the major pollutants that impact both surface and groundwater, and potential solutions, the dancers and musicians each produce complementary and novel movements that engage the senses in a deeper way—providing the basis for emotional and human connection. We spent hours interviewing various stakeholders about water—this informed the performance, and portions of their visual and audio clips are included. Local and state water issues, both agricultural and urban, are highlighted. A critical element was revealed during our research process—specifically, the reverence that North American Indian nations have consistently and powerfully exhibited for this precious resource. To these peoples, we respectfully dedicate this work.

Importantly, our goal was not to take a prescriptive position, e.g., a regulatory or voluntary approach toward solving water problems, mainly because no matter where someone might fall on this spectrum, it has a divisive effect. Rather, we aimed to create a performance that would unite, through an informational, and perhaps more importantly, emotional experience. Based on the audience responses at the multiple sold-out shows at Luther College, and at the subsequent Grinnell Summer Arts Festival, we are humbled by the outcome. The audience we attracted at Luther was one of the most diverse I've ever seen in terms of a performance, and included members of agricultural, urban and conservation groups, scientists and artists, educators and students, and community members and leaders. It is our sincere hope that future performances will attract a similarly diverse audience.

Ultimately, we acknowledge Body of Water as a prayer to return to a right relationship with the earth—recognizing that our own success is not dependent on our abilities to control or dominate, but on our abilities to harmonize and see ourselves as a part. In this spirit, we are contributing our energies to spread this message, and we hope you will join us.

Future Opportunities to Experience the Body of Water Performance and Project:

Body of Water Live Performance: 7 p.m. March 23, at the C.Y. Stephens Auditorium, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. This performance commemorates the 10th anniversary of the Iowa Water Conference, and will be open to the public with no charge for admission. We are incredibly excited to be partnering with a group of Ames High School students—the Bluestem Institute—for the pre-performance gallery exhibit at 6 p.m. These students will present the beautiful products of their year-long research and service learning project focused on water.

National Water Dance (Live): 3 p.m., Saturday, April 16th, 2016.  Luther students, led by Jane Hawley, will join a national 'movement choir' that will occur simultaneously at sites across the U.S. Dancers and movers of all ages and abilities will use their bodies, at their own sites, to bring attention to water issues. The event will be live-streamed on the internet at Our movement site will be the Upper Iowa River, on and under the College Drive Bridge in Decorah, Iowa.

DVD/download 2015 Body of Water performance at Luther College: Includes full-length performance and nine individual videos used in performance and pre-performance.

Body of Water website:

Jodi Enos-Berlage

Jodi Enos-Berlage

Jodi Enos-Berlage, has been a professor in Luther's biology department since 2000, with primary teaching responsibilities in microbiology, immunology and Principles of Biology. She uses a variety of active learning strategies in the classroom and laboratory to engage students and enhance learning. Enos-Berlage facilitates and evaluates over 40 student internships/year in the health care, research and environmental areas. She has strong interests in improving science communication for all audiences and has co-developed a seminar course focused on this subject. Enos-Berlage also collaborates with colleagues in the Luther Visual and Performing Arts Department, and is particularly interested in combining science and the arts to more effectively express ideas.

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