This week for public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, observed somewhat wide eyed and curious was a production of “Doggie Hamlet,” staged under a sunny southern California sky at Will Roger State Historic Park by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.
Admittedly, I don’t know exactly how to describe the event conceived, choreographed and directed by Ann Carlson: Whether it was a dance concert, a dog show, or a happening?
Or perhaps even something more, as Carlson writes in the program, that Doggie Hamlet “dares the preposterous, the absurd, the simple, even silly “ asking us, literally, “to sit together at the edge of the mystery and sameness that joins all living things.”
However explained, the event was diverting and delightful, featuring milling sheep, trying as ever to snap up a few blades of green grass, several cavorting humans in and out of floppy sheep skins, and a very focused, no nonsense, beautiful herding Border Collie doing his thing, while two others impatiently looked on with their distinctive gaze.
A more coherent dance narrative would have been appreciated, whether the humans were trying to mimic or divert the principal herding dog. Whatever their intent, they were frankly awkward, purposely or not. Forget Shakespeare. I missed the connection.
And as someone who has witnessed these dogs actually herding sheep in New Zealand, I feel it would have added to the drama seeing them work in concert. It is impressive. I also have to confess that I was partial to the principal dog Monk, being a dedicated dog person, and not incidentally the master and admirer of a herding Corgi.
Our dog known as Bobby the Bad is very much a working dog who instead of corralling cattle for which he was bred must now be content herding other dogs and humans. For those curious, Bobby can be seen and heard at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park most days at 4 PM. doing his thing, despite the coarse gravel there that cuts his and his buddies’ feet. So much for the city’s promise of replacing it last year. We the persevering pet owners I guess should be just glad the park is occasionally maintained.
Back to a more pristine Will Roger’s Park, where seated on a hay bale overlooking the polo grounds, I was very much predisposed for Doggie Hamlet.
To be sure, in my enjoyable pursuit of arts and entertainment attractions to review, I have come to expect the unexpected from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. Its main venue is the landmark campus centerpiece Royce Hall, but in recent years has branched out to the more intimate UCLA Freud Playhouse and Little theater, and downtown to the Theatre at Ace Hotel.
And now, of course, there is Will Roger’s Park. previously known for its polo matches and fabeled private rope twirling performance . But as its mission statement proclaims, the center is not a place, it’s “a state of mind that embraces experimentation, encourages a culture of the curious, champions disruptors and dreamers and supports the commitment and courage of artists.” I like that.