Raising Water Awareness through Performance Art


To integrate science, dance, and music to generate a novel performance that tells the story of the post-glacial Great Lakes in 6 movements.

Background and Context

Freshwater is vital to human life and societal well-being (Baron et al. 2001), but its quality and quantity are being threatened at the global and local scales (Gleick 2014). Indeed, recognition of a growing global freshwater crisis resulted in the United Nations calling 2013 the International Year of Water Cooperation. Water provides numerous ecosystem services (i.e., benefits that nature provides free of charge to society), including drinking water, pollution purification, navigation, agriculture, fisheries, aesthetics, and habitat (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).

Yet, despite the importance of water as an absolute need to sustain life, studies indicate we lack a solid understanding of basic water principles. A recent study showed that 60% of Michiganders did not realize they live in a watershed (MI Water Strategy 2016). Clearly, new approaches are needed to increase public awareness of our water resources. One approach that has been very successful, especially at the grade school level, is hands-on place-based education; the Annis Water Resources Institute does this through their vessel and classroom education program, where students sample water and sediment on their vessels, and then do on-board analyses. While this program is exceedingly effective, we also need additional approaches that are geared toward a more mature population.

There is no panacea when it comes to public education, as evidenced by the current debate over charter and schools of choice (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/vouchers/choice/). New ideas and approaches need to be developed. To that end, GVSU faculty members from Dance (Hannah Seidel), Music (Sookkyung Cho), and AWRI (Al Steinman) have joined forces to collaborate on a novel approach to raise awareness about freshwater, as described below.

From left to right: Al Steinman, Hannah Seidel, and Sookkyung Cho.

From left to right: Al Steinman, Hannah Seidel, and Sookkyung Cho.

Dr. Al Steinman has collaborated with GVSU faculty members Dr. Sookkyung Cho, and Hannah Seidel to create "Sub-Merge: Raising Water Awareness Through Science, Music, and Dance".

Sub-Merge features the performances of five newly commissioned musical compositions created by Teddy Niedermaier, Daniel Temkin, and Jeremy Crosmer, which complement piano compositions by Gabriel Faure and Dmitri Shostakovich. Musicians included Sookyung Cho (piano: GVSU), Hong-Yi Mo (violin: Detroit Symphony Orchestra), Jeremy Crosmer (cello: Detroit Symphony Orchestra), and GVSU students Natalie Evancoe, Courtney Saunders, Zach Forsleff, and Rebekah Shomsky as the FOURtepiano 8-hand ensemble.

Dance choreography was created by Hannah Seidel with professional dancers Courtney Drasner and Kristy Kuhn from NYC, as well as GVSU students Olivia Karenas, Ross Lindhout, Ryan Schwaar, and Victoria VanderPlas.

Science narration was written by Al Steinman with oration by Roger Ellis.

The performances will be repeated on May 13, 2019 at GVSU’s Loosemore Auditorium on the Grand Rapids campus. A 3:30 p.m. performance is by invitation only for students from Grand Rapids Public Schools; the 7:00 p.m. performance is open to the general public and no tickets are required.

Performance Recordings

"Sub-Merge" world premiere, Muskegon, MI, 10/19/2018

"Sub-Merge" second performance, Allendale, MI, 10/20/2018

Funders for this performance include GVSU’s Making Waves Initiative and the Allen and Helen Hunting Research and Innovation Fund. 


Baron, J.S., Poff, N.L., Angermeier, P.L., Dahm, C.N., Gleick, P.H., Hairston, N.G., Jackson, R.B., Johnston, C.A., Richter, B.D. and Steinman, A.D. (2002). Meeting ecological and societal needs for freshwater. Ecological Applications 12: 1247-1260.

Gleick, P.H. editor (2014). The world's water volume 8: The biennial report on freshwater resources (Vol. 8). Island Press.

Michigan Water Strategy. 2016. Available at: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-ogl-waterstrategy_538161_7.pdf

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington. 155pp.


Sookkyung Cho, Assistant Professor, Piano: [email protected]
Hannah Seidel, Assistant Professor, Modern Dance: [email protected]
Al Steinman, Allen and Helen Hunting Director & Professor, Water Resources: [email protected]

Page last modified June 18, 2020