An inspiring dance performance at stunning locations across the South Down National Park is bringing people closer to nature through the power of movement.

Choreographed by the talented Chris Pavia, the first choreographer with Down’s Syndrome to make a dance piece for national touring, Echoes Within The Earth is inspired by his childhood experiences of woodland in the South Downs.

The initiative was led by Farnham-based Stopgap Dance Company; Chris joined the company as a dancer 25 years ago and is now resident choreographer.

He worked with contemporary dancers Jonathan Mewett and Abbie Thompson, who performed a breathtaking duet audiences at Petworth Park, Seven Sisters Country Park and Gilbert White’s House and Gardens.

The initiative also included a series of immersive workshops for young people, including pupils from Treloar School in Alton and children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.

The live dances have now culminated in a beautiful short film, that captures the dances and the profound impact they had on people.

Echoes in the Earth

The company has become a global leader in creating dance opportunities at all levels for people with disabilities or neurodiversity.

Chris, who lives in Guildford and is a MENCAP ambassador, said: “The National Park forests were inspirational to the choreography – the journeys through the trees felt like a new world to discover for me.

“The sounds of the trees were important – and at times, you think you are lonely but then you begin to play with the shadows, and you are drawn into and supported by nature.

“I would like the audience to feel intrigued by the mystery of the trees and the surprise of the journey.”

Dancer Jonathan Mewett said: “It was a very collaborative process and it was really special working with Chris.

“Each place we went to in the National Park was really welcoming, it reminded me how nice it is to be outdoors, and to have space and enjoy the sun.”

Dancer Abbie Thompson added: “Chris has so many ideas which is wonderful to work with as a dancer.”

The feedback from the workshops was full of praise and Chris and his team are hopeful to be able to do more live nature-based performances in the future.

One participant of the workshop said: “I followed Jon’s pathway, and I really enjoyed the fact it was an immersive experience.

“I loved that it was out in nature and that the music reflected the nature – you could almost hear the heartbeat of the trees.”

Another said: “When people think of dance they often think of ballet, hip-hop or Strictly, but this brings a different element to it!”

One girl added: “When the dancers were apart, I thought that showed how distanced we can be from nature.

“But then we can connect back to it and join back up to our surroundings.”

The project was supported by the South Downs National Park Authority, South Downs National Park Trust, Arts Council England, and the National Trust.

Anooshka Rawden, who leads cultural heritage at the National Park, said: “Some of the most special experiences we can have in the countryside are sharing that sense of discovery with others, and Chris has created an opportunity to do this beautifully and sensitively through dance.

“Stopgap Dance Company and Chris have been such lovely and talented people to work with, and it’s been wonderful to hear how people have responded to the performance, thinking about their own connections to nature and green spaces.”