“Mapping the River”
5:15 p.m. Today and Friday, 2:00 p.m. Saturday
Duderstadt Center Video Studio

An eclectic group of professors had the daunting task of collaborating on a project with one broad guideline: The piece had to be about water. The teammates linked their personal interpretations of the project — from footage of local river life to a poem about a damsel fly with phosphorescent wings — together to create a cohesive multimedia performance.

“Mapping the River” is one of four installation projects about the elements — earth, wind, fire and water — that were organized by Arts on Earth last fall at the Duderstadt Center. Professors and students from various fields — including Percussion Performance in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and Program in the Environment in LSA — take the stage again in a collaborative performance incorporating visual and performance arts with ecological education.

The collaborators of the project come from an eclectic background. Jessica Fogel, professor of dance in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, took on the role as team leader in addition to choreographing dance sequences for the project. Keith Taylor, English professor and director of the Creative Writing program, wrote poetry inspired by the Huron River that serves as narration in the performance.

“I went to water immediately for a couple of reasons,” Taylor said. “I wrote a book about the Huron River. And plus, my friend Evan Chambers was interested in doing water because he was composing a symphony that was motivated by the Huron River.”

Evan Chambers, Chair of the Music Composition Department, provided an innovative chamber musical score titled “Headwater.” In addition to Chambers’s score, the University percussion ensemble will perform under the direction of Joseph Gramley, assistant professor in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Gramley’s music is a realistic ambient score that re-produces water-type sounds like a rushing river and raindrops. The piece is played while audience members watch dance and video inspired by local water sources.

While the art collaborators provide stimulating visual and performance components, the research of Dr. Sara Adlerstein, lecturer in the school of Natural Resources and Environment, is the focal point of the work. Since coming to the University, Adlerstein has been interested in the Huron River, and she has provided information about its ecological problems for the project.

The performance and visual arts aspects serve as platforms to explore water and its significance at the local level. Because the Huron River plays such an integral part in the Ann Arbor and University communities, the collaborators agreed to focus on the river as the link to tie the project together.

“Sara suggested that if we’re going to do water we should do the water that is only a quarter of a mile away from us. The Huron River gives us a narrative line, a beginning and end,” Taylor said.

In addition to being a scientist, Adlerstein is a visual artist. Her paintings — inspired by freshwater — are intermittently projected during the performance.

“Being an artist and scientist myself, I’ve tried to put the two worlds together,” she said. “From the very beginning, my hope was that the piece was going to be poetic and beautiful but also meaningful, in the sense that we change people’s mind about nature.”

The artists and scientist behind “Mapping the River” had the challenge of maintaining their individual visions while staying in tune with the group’s overall goal. At the onset of the project, the collaborators wrote a credo of what they thought about water.

“Jessica had confidence in the vision from pretty early on. I liked seeing how the piece was taking shape, seeing how everything fit together,” Taylor said. “I have to admit I was pretty skeptical to see how it was all going to fit together. But I was very pleased in the end.”

The collaborative process for “Mapping the River” was a new kind of artistic experience for many of the professors.

“(The project) was very different from the artwork I do normally, because when I do my own art I’m in 100-percent control of what I’m doing. There’s an element of the surprise in collaboration,” Adlerstein said.

Although the project doesn’t provide a solution to the Huron River’s pollution problem, it informs its audience of an important issue in the community while exposing it to a wide range of artistic disciplines.

“Although the information isn’t 100-percent scientific in a way, it’s 100-percent real,” said Alderstein. “My hope is that after seeing the performance, people will want to find more information about nature.”

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