Green Space Dark Skies, led by Walk the Plank, worked with local partners and artists to create a magical music and dance celebration of the beauty of Dunstable Downs in The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) last weekend. This immense gathering brought together local community groups, many of whom had never visited the Downs before to enjoy the green space and dark skies.
Green Space Dark Skies is a series of 20 large-scale outdoor artworks in the UK’s most outstanding landscapes as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, from April to September 2022.
The gathering of around 600 people was made up of locals, community groups and people from around the UK. It began with a picnic for the Lumenators who were serenaded by five Dhol Drummers arriving out of a giant Dhol drum. An Odissi dance ensemble presented a rare treat with dance performances in beautiful costumes from Luton-based dance and music company KADAM. Workshops took place with Lumenators creating butterfly-shaped kites inspired by the rare Chalk Hill Blue butterfly which can be spotted on Dunstable Downs.
The narrative of the gathering was created by local playwright Teresa Burns who was inspired by her experience of going to the Downs with her father. She writes: ‘We arrived at the Downs to the birdsong from Skylark Meadow where the wind howls hello, grasshoppers chirp and butterflies sigh and at 797 feet, this is the closest I’d ever been to the sky.’
The Lumenators carried their Geolights which changed colour as they came together to create shapes in the stunning landscape of Dunstable Downs with its beautiful sunset. Choreographer and artistic director of Akademi Suba Subramaniam choreographed the Lumenator sequences at dusk featuring a soundtrack from contemporary folk musician Jim Carey Connell, poetry and a salutation. A moment was taken to put down the lights and enjoy the dark skies above on a stunning and warm summer night. The Lumenators formed a Chalk Hill Blue Butterfly shape before running around ‘like fireflies’ with their lights aloft as the finale.
Fletcher, age 10 from Aylesbury said: ‘I’ve been to Dunstable Downs many times and I found this event fantastic. My favourite bit was the fireflies, we ran around in circles with the lights when it went dark.’
Haleema Ali Creative leader at Luton Council and RevolutonArts said: ‘I’m here because I love exploring nature, having an adventure getting to know different people. The event today is magical, to be something called a ‘Lumenator’ holding out a light source in a beautiful green space such as The Chilterns. It was absolutely breathtaking. We saw the beautiful sunset at Dunstable Downs, and I was here with people from all sorts of different cultures, and different backgrounds. It’s quite spiritual and being with hundreds of people doing an activity together was amazing. The poem I performed was played in people’s ears while they moved around together. Participating in this and experiencing it with other people felt immersive. Seeing different members of the community, it almost feels like a pilgrimage, people coming and doing something together to celebrate nature and the beauty that’s around us, it just felt really amazing.’
Liz, from Southend visiting her sister locally, said: ‘I thought it was a fantastic and just very, very unique event. I think that was the reason it was just a lovely relaxing experience joining in the movements with a beautiful sunset.’
Rumaya, age 10 from Camberwell in London said: ‘I came all the way from Camberwell, which is quite a long journey. Taking part was quite calm and peaceful and it got a lot of stress out of a lot of people’s minds, especially mine. I would say the landscape was beautiful, it was very therapeutic being here. This is my first time here and it was quite an experience, I would come back as it’s like a stress reliever. I liked the movement and lights experience a lot because of those different vibrant colours and they all had a nice glow and we all made shapes and everything, which is really beautiful.’
Local communities participating in the run-up and during the gathering included Milton Keynes Hindu Association, MK Gallery’s Young People art group ARioT, Camphill and the Women’s Butterfly Project and groups led by Dr Nasreen Ali from the Chalkscapes Project and City Girl in Nature.
Kwesia, City Girl in Nature said: ‘I came to this event as I was supporting and down for everything Green Space Dark Skies is offering. I brought a few local groups from London up to be able to experience this. At first, no one had a clue what was going on but on arrival, of course, that all changed and they all agreed it was amazing on Dunstable Downs, and being out here in such a beautiful place rather than in a city. I love being out in nature already, but I’ve never done something like this. It was really great to be able to mix natural light with the sun setting with the Geolights. Being here with literally hundreds of people was cool and nice to be surrounded by so many different people from different locations, and share the space and place with them. I would definitely come back to Dunstable Downs and I didn’t know it was this close, so I definitely will be coming back and bringing more young people with me.’
John Orna-Ornstein, Director of Culture and Engagement for the National Trust said: ‘This event tonight, brings together people in this amazing National Trust and Chilterns AONB landscape: the chalk hills and far-reaching views, together with the wonderfully creative idea of Green Space Dark Skies has something very special here this evening. For me, the element of bringing together people in the landscape is the magic of this event. It’s so exciting to see so many people from Luton and Dunstable stay late into the evening and experience the beauty of this open and natural space. I hope the National Trust can do more projects like this, so that whole communities can get involved.’
Dr Elaine King, Chief Executive Officer, The Chilterns Conservation Board said: ‘It’s a priority for us to ensure the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is accessible to everyone. We want to change the narrative and make the countryside a welcoming and enjoyable space for all. Tonight’s event was a perfect example of how this can be achieved. To see so many people come together from a wide range of backgrounds and experience the natural beauty of the Chilterns landscape was magical. There was such a lovely atmosphere with people enjoying the entertainment, having picnics and taking in the breathtaking views. It was a very special experience.’
John Watkins, Chief Executive, The National Association For Areas Of Outstanding Natural Beauty said: ‘The Green Space Dark Skies project is completely unique and a national invitation to everyone to spend time in our most cherished places. We are involved for good reason as the AONBs’ teams are serious about reaching those audiences we may have historically served and those who may not have previously explored an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Chilterns is one of the most accessible protected landscapes in Europe with 1.6 million people living within 10km of it, and there are 46 AONBs in the UK waiting to be discovered, each completely unique.’
The choreography has been captured on film and a short film which incorporates the stories of the people and place of the Dunstable Downs gathering will be broadcast online after the event.
Walk the Plank is working with the National Trust as creative and delivery partners in a number of locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
To find out more and take part in future Green Space Dark Skies events visit greenspacedarkskies.uk/events.