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The Fine Art of Dancing in the Dark

By Leonard Shapiro

It was called called “Ridgeline…a flash art experience.” But if you asked any of the 300-plus local students who assembled on the airplane runway at Oak Spring near Upperville what they had just experienced over a memorable 45 minutes, surely their description likely would be a single word:


Elizabeth Turk, a widely-regarded sculptor of marble among her many other artistic talents, was asked by the Oak Spring Garden Foundation to put together what became a magical community performance as a drone filmed the entire process from above.

The children and some of their parents and even grandparents were given LED-lit umbrellas that featured images of endangered flora of eastern North America. The gorgeous umbrella canopies, designed by Turk, became “pixels” that, in the fading light of a fall evening, created dynamic patterns captured overhead by the drones.

According to a news release from the foundation, “the gathering becomes a dance of light, and from afar, a vibrant field of plants and flowers swelling and swaying with grace and joy against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains at sunset…allowing the individual movements to be seen collectively as one.”

Said Turk, “Using movement, music and technology, while surrounded by nature, we hope to inspire dialogue, raise consciousness and invite individuals to transcend boundaries as a larger, creative and more optimistic community.”

Sir Peter Crane, president of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, said he and the foundation were “delighted to involve our local community, and especially our local schools, in this unique experience that is not only innovative and fun, but also helps raise awareness of the vital importance of environmental stewardship.”

The event began with a performance by dancer Demetia Hopkins, choreographed by Lara Wilson to a commissioned piece by Dr. Dena Jennings of Imani Works. After that, live music by Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, a multi-Grammy award nominee, encouraged everyone to join together and start moving around and twirling there umbrellas.

According to Turk, through collaboration and involvement, Ridgeline participants become artists, dancers, choreographers, neighbors, and friends, transforming each person into the artwork itself.

A Southern California native, Turk is a MacArthur Fellow, an Annalee & Barnett Newman Foundation and Joan Mitchell recipient, and has been a Smithsonian Artist Resident Fellow.

“This was truly a labor of love for us as artists,” Turk said in an interview. “Some of the children weren’t old enough to lift an umbrella. It ranged from 18 months old to grandparents. You watch the kids jumping around, darting under the umbrellas, just having a wonderful time, it’s truly a magical experience for everyone. And when you see some of the footage from the drones, it just makes you smile.”

Fun it was, from start to fabulous finish.


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