Water music, what are lives: UI Dancers in Company present ‘‘Watershed: Dance, Science, Activism, and the Future of Water in Iowa’

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Iowa native Jessica Anthony grew up thinking the state’s muddy rivers, streams, and creeks were natural. But last semester, the visiting assistant professor of dance learned otherwise.

Once upon a time, the rivers ran cleaner and clearer. People swam, canoed, and enjoyed all the benefits the water had to offer. These days, those narratives are chalked up to history and the two-thirds polluted Iowa waters see little to no human interaction.

Anthony, along with Assistant Professor Michael Sakamoto and the UI Dancers in Company, would like to remind the public of the cleaner days. Under the guidance of codirectors Sakamoto and Anthony, the company will host “Watershed: Dance, Science, Activism and the Future of Water in Iowa,” a free symposium from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday at the IMU Outdoor Amphitheater.

Combining dance, participatory activities, panel discussions, and lectures, the event reflects the company’s season theme of water. The members previously performed some of the works at the Dancers in Company Home Concert in February.

“Water is a very well-established, inspiring metaphor and ideas throughout the world in terms of artwork,” Sakamoto said. “We felt, artistically for the choreographers, that it was something that easily overlaps among art, culture, society, the environment, and politics. It just cuts across all those supposed boundaries, and so we were very excited to use that.”

In addition to the artistic quality and interconnection the theme offers, it’s also a timely subject. Last year, the Des Moines Water Works announced it would sue three northwestern Iowa drainage districts for releasing nitrates from farm fields into the Raccoon River, which serves as one of two sources of drinking water for Des Moines metro area residents. That utility’s CEO, Bill Stowe, will give a keynote talk toward the end of the symposium.

But before the symposium was pieced together, the undergraduate and graduate students of Dancers in Company spent last semester in the scientific, economic, land use, and activism world of water. They took advantage of weekly guest lectures from experts, university professors, and community members to help translate the broad theme into a series of dances. Six different choreographers were tasked with this translation.

“If you come, you’ll see that these works are all very different, so it can have quite a narrative, but it has an abstract quality to it,” Anthony said. “Hopefully, it’s an invitation to consider to locate yourself in relationship to this material, to this question, or to this image.”
For Dancers in Company undergraduate dancer Dot Armstrong, meshing scientific research and dance choreography added a real but interesting challenge.

“The modes of synthesis are the main difference,” Armstrong wrote in an email. “Instead of a thesis, we make moves. That’s a challenge and a benefit. It’s a struggle to interpret scientific data through performance; it’s a chance to re-contextualize familiar or ‘boring’ problems/ideas in a new medium.”

Though the company took the works on tour throughout Iowa and Chicago in March and April, Iowa City is the only place the symposium will be held. Afterward, Sakamoto hopes attendees decide to reflect on their relationship with the environment and nature.

“Our bodies are 60 percent water,” he said. “This is not just an issue that exists out there far away from us. It literally is in us; it’s literally us. It’s something we have to face. It’s something that we don’t have a choice in dealing with, and it’s really survival of human right.”

DANCE
“Watershed: Dance, Science, Activism and the Future of Water in Iowa”
When: 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Friday
Where: IMU Outdoor Amphitheater
Admission: Free

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