tue 30/05/2017

Brighton Festival: Laurie Anderson's Concert for Dogs, Open Air Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Brighton Festival: Laurie Anderson's Concert for Dogs, Open Air Theatre

Brighton Festival: Laurie Anderson's Concert for Dogs, Open Air Theatre

Would this affable avant-garde experiment be canine chaos?

Canine excitement rose to a crescendo, with many larger dogs barking across the theatre as if at some invisible front door
Laurie meets Paddy, our canine reviewer

"Wouldn't it be great if you were playing a concert and you looked out and everyone is a dog?" Laurie Anderson mused, almost a decade ago, waiting backstage with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Anderson has realised her outlandish dream, creating a most unusual concert, apparently tailored to the canine ear. When the opportunity to attend came up I jumped at the chance, as did Paddy, our black Labrador-New Zealand Huntaway cross.

The 20-minute performance features music only audible to dogs and includes other sounds for their human companions. It was first performed at the Sydney Opera House, then again in New York's Times Square on a bitterly cold winter morning earlier this year. Now, on a warm, overcast evening, it makes its UK premiere at the Brighton Open Air Theatre, a little amphitheatre tucked away behind a small café and some impressively manicured public gardens in Hove. Paddy featured on social media earlier this spring promoting the event, pictured sitting haughtily on the terrace at the theatre. Now he has come to enjoy the full experience.

Tickets stipulated “no unaccompanied humans (or dogs)” so, given that the show was fully booked, we guessed there might be upwards of three hundred dogs attending. As we approached the café we were surrounded by the sound of little dogs meeting whilst their owners performed the dance of the leads. There was an occasional snarl whilst people enjoyed a pre-show glass but the queue to enter was generally peaceful and orderly. As the audience grew so did the yapping and barking until Laurie Anderson arrived on stage and began her solo performance with an electric violin and associated electronic wizardry.

The yipping and yapping rose and fell to her short atmospheric pieces and when she spoke she seemed to have a calming effect on the humans too. Whilst producing gentle ambient sounds, Anderson asked the humans how many of them felt that they looked like their dogs. There were giggles and murmurs and one or two hands eventually rose. She thanked the late Adrian Bunting, who passed away in 2013 having designed the Brighton Open Air Theatre during his last days, for his legacy, and let the humans know that his ashes were scattered on the sweet spot on the thrust stage in front of her. A voice changer suddenly and dramatically brought us a deep demonic voice emanating from her diminutive figure. The small dogs quietened and many of the larger ones pricked up their ears with interest as she excitedly identified different breeds in those demon tones.

After that surreal experience we were taken up-tempo with a louder rhythmic piece and the dogs seemed to follow. As a finale, Anderson did vocal dog impersonations.The canine excitement visibly rose to a crescendo, with many larger dogs barking across the theatre as if at some invisible front door. To finish she was joined by the Owen Eastwood Trio on double bass, keyboard and drums for a rendition of “How Much Is That Doggy in The Window”. She left this accomplished local trio creating impressive, eclectic, tempo-seguing jazz-funk while people and pooches slowly dispersed.

The whole experience invited you, almost unwittingly, whilst focused on your canine friend’s reactions, into the experimental world of Laurie Anderson’s music. Being corralled with so many other dogs and their humans is a glue that bonds the audience and performer immediately. It might be argued that some of the dogs’ reactions are through minor irritation rather than enjoyment but there was a surprisingly low level of aggression. I think there was more distress in worried humans whose minds had conjured apocalyptic visions of flying fur. This event was very specifically for dogs and doggy humans so if you were either, it was an eccentric but rather wonderful treat.

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