“Just like your spine connects your body together, the water connects us to each other. We need to appreciate the Earth, the water, the animals and come together in a way that sparks action and unity.”
Katie Pustizzi, creator of Liquid Spine
Born on the Marshall Islands, dancer, choreographer, director, filmmaker, educator and environmental activist, Katie Pustizzi was destined to become a voice for the environment, specifically our planet’s oceans and waterways. Enraged by the treatment of our aquatic ecosystems, including the use of single-use plastics and toxic waste being dumped into the water, Katie developed “Liquid Spine”, a site-sensitive, immersive dance series created in rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans as a way to illuminate people’s understanding of their impact on nature. In conjunction with the dance pieces, Liquid Spine hosts a myriad of related community events such as beach cleanups and public art exhibits in an effort to repair the public’s relationship with the natural world.
“I’ve had the opportunity to dance in many places but I always felt like a hypocrite simply enjoying nature because – just look at our oceans and waterways – we’re preventing ecosystems from thriving. Dance is the way I speak so I decided to blend my loves – dance and water – together. I wanted to think about making a difference – not just creating work that makes me feel good – I wanted to get people involved or thinking about their choices in a way that becomes a form of social inquiry,” said Katie.
Inspiring a Pollution-Free Lifestyle
The first film she directed, “Liquid Spine: Cape Ann”, was filmed on the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples, namely the Pawtucket, Massachusett, Wampanoag, and Nipmuck people in Massachusetts. It focused on the abundance of trash and plastic in our waters in the hope of inspiring viewers to adjust their lifestyle to decrease waste and keep our waters pollution-free. Instead of using any specific codified dance forms, Katie relishes experiential work based in improvisation so, the dancers in this film were invited to explore, move and interact with the ocean in a way that felt natural.
“I told the dancers to let the waves take you and move you. With the dancer covered in trash, I really encouraged her to move in a way that felt safe and was connected with the narrative. I’m not creating work for the stage,” said Katie. When speaking about Liquid Spine performances in public spaces she said, “..the work is in the water or in natural spaces. This work engages communities out in the public… if you have people who wouldn’t choose to see dance – especially dance with environmental factors as the narrative or driving concept – and they suddenly come across it, what kind of impact might that have?”
Uplifting Other’s Voices and the Voice of Our Planet
Katie’s love for dance began when she was just five years old. The idea that movement could transcend words and create space for dialogue and conversation is what helped her as a young child and what she gravitated toward and found solace in as a teen. At 17, she started a dance company which she ran for 10 years. Through improvisation and water imagery, Katie was able to mentor dancers helping them to find their own movement language. Liquid Spine is a term that she used in reference to connecting them to how their bodies move, their undulations; the ripples – like water – in the spine of these juicy movers were expansive and free.
Having found her voice in dance, Katie focused on choreography and education through graduate school and now helps college undergraduates to find their unique point of view, embrace their individuality, and celebrate who they are through dance. One might think that would be enough for this powerful dancer and educator; however, Katie has dedicated herself to not only uplifting the voices of others, she’s uplifting the voice of our planet as well.
“The degradation of our world is too large, scary, and burdensome for many to bear. Many become immobilized. Art is the bridge to action,” Katie explained. “I want to engage communities in actionable events and inspire people to develop a deep commitment to work together. My movement and my art is my loudest voice.”
However, this work is not without its challenges. The self-doubt that all changemakers face rears its head as she wonders if the work is enough to spark change and help those on a global journey toward a healthy Earth. Yet, she doesn’t let that stop her. Katie harnesses the feeling of gratitude she has to be able to do this work and continues fostering connection with people from different walks of life and highlighting the injustices that people, animals and the water face. With a deep belief in “radical listening”, Katie seeks to connect, hear, feel and deeply listen to everyone who knows the land and challenges.
“I read this book – The Guardians of the Trees by Kinari Webb, MD – and I came across the term “radical listening”. I fell in love with it and want to listen to the experts such as environmental activists, Indigenous leaders, and scientists to understand what’s going on environmentally and have that be embodied in the art that I create,” she commented. “I don’t typically work with set choreography, so there’s the opportunity for this learning from these other voices to be incorporated into the dance works.”
Another challenge Katie faces is in finding support – financial and/or partnership support. She is tremendously grateful for the people and arts and environmental organizations who have endorsed her work, including The Pollination Project.
“I’m grateful to The Pollination Project for choosing me,” she said. “When I received the grant, I felt like, Yes, I can do this and I can keep doing this – it gave me another kind of spark of energy and excitement to continue and explore projects that I’ve been working on for awhile knowing I would be able to do them. It was exhilarating and exciting and a big sigh of relief. This was the first grant not connected to people I knew, which felt affirming and it has pushed me to keep going.”
Committed to Creating a Brighter Future
With this funding, Katie will create a live performance in a public space in Salem, Massachusetts through Global Water Dances. The performance will take place in the East India Square Fountain on June 10th, 2023. She will also be creating a new film in the town in Sicily that her grandparents emigrated from and where she still has family. This film will focus on mercury poisoning and how it affects the local community and the Mediterranean Sea.
This is only the beginning of the adventure for Katie. Her hope is to work in many different communities and countries and explore environmental challenges. “I want people to value every living thing and to know that they can make a difference. Whatever it is, do it because it impacts you, do it because it impacts plants and animals, and do it because it’s worth it,” shared Katie. “If everyone is empowered to take care of the land and water under their feet, then the ripples of health, restoration, and growth will surely travel and become abundant.”
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