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Highlights: Shakespeare Meets Sheep in ‘Doggie Hamlet’

  • Doggie Hamlet stars a small corps of dancers, sheep and sheep dogs.

  • A scene from choreographer Ann Carlson’s Doggie Hamlet, from a preview performance last September.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, June 22, 2017

To baa or not to baa? That’s just one of the questions viewers might find themselves asking next Thursday afternoon, while 25 sheep from Strafford co-star in two performances of Doggie Hamlet on the green in Hanover.

Choreographer Ann Carlson’s mashup of Shakespeare, dance, sheep and the doggies of the title will have its world premiere, sponsored by Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center.

“It’s quite an experiment, all the way around,” Carlson said during a telephone interview from California on Tuesday. “People should be prepared for a very different kind of performance. It balances between a kind of meditation and an exploration of our bond with animals and Earth. It’s a lot about stewardship and relationships.

“It’s a different thing altogether.”

Carlson advises spectators to watch the interactions among the humans and the animals with the original Hamlet, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and Daniel Wroblewski’s 2008 novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle in mind — just not as templates.

“The work doesn’t really tell a narrative,” Carlson said. “It’s more like a play within a play.”

Carlson said she started “stewing on this concept” in 2009, after reading Wroblewski’s book. Soon after, she was discussing Sawtelle with her friend Geraldine Brooks, the Australian-born, best-selling novelist now living on Martha’s Vineyard. Brooks then declared it “a kind of doggie Hamlet.

“The book has the brooding, troubled son, the stepfather, the murdered father’s ghost, and the wonderful dog, Almondine, who is absolutely Ophelia,” Brooks wrote in a Facebook message on Tuesday. “She’s loving, beloved and yet ultimately mistreated, leading to her demise.”

Carlson said she had almost forgotten the discussion by the time she started working in earnest on the project in 2014.

“I had some really dumb titles at first,” the choreographer recalled. “I was going back and forth a while, and then I remembered back to that conversation with Geraldine, and it became the working title.”

The production itself, meanwhile, kept evolving, finally gaining traction once Carlson was introduced to Diane Cox, an upstate New York artist who’s also a scientist and a handler of competitive sheep dogs. Cox will oversee the herding process, while Carlson directs the dancers.

Strafford resident Stephen Wetmore is wondering what to expect, not just at showtime, but during two rehearsals early next week at Fullington Field in Hanover. There, 25 of the mixed-breed sheep — half Border Cheviot, half Perendale — he uses to train sheep dogs and their handlers will finally meet the guest dogs and the five human performers with whom they’ll share the green for two shows.

“The only thing I’ve seen of the production is what I’ve seen on the computer,” Wetmore said of YouTube videos of previews staged in southern Vermont last fall. “I’m going to bring six dogs of my own to be the standby dogs, just in case. There’s no way to know how (the sheep) will react to the other dogs.

“There’s a little bit of concern there on my part. I’m not just going to drop off the sheep and say, ‘See you at 8.’ ”

Indeed, Wetmore, who Carlson said “auditioned the dogs,” will surround the “stage” with a woven-wire fence called ElectroNet.

“We’ll have the movement of sheep and dogs to contend with, the heat of the day,” Carlson said. “We’ll be contending with the traffic. A lot of what we’ve been doing with the human performers and the dogs is to learn to share space. The sheep are the wild card. They feel the pressure of our presence, because we’re seen as predators. They’ll have the pressure of the audience, too. We want to mitigate that pressure on them.”

If the experiment works, or at least doesn’t unravel, Carlson and her company will try it next with flocks in Jackson Hole, Wyo., then in Los Angeles.

“Depending on how it goes, we’d like to bring it to New York next year,” Carlson said. “Central Park has been brought up, and we’re considering other options. That’s totally up in the air.

“I’m so eager to see how everyone responds.”

Ann Carlson presents the world premiere of Doggie Hamlet on the green in Hanover next Thursday afternoon at 4:30 and 7. Admission is free. Between the shows, Upper Valley farmers and organizations will demonstrate the process of turning wool into clothing, and offer hands-on activities for spectators of all ages . To learn more, visit hop.dartmouth.edu.

Best Bets

Wilder resident Jes Raymond leads her Americana band The Blackberry Bushes into Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night at 9. To reserve a table, call 802-436-2139.

Cellist Benjamin Kulp and pianist Victoria Nooe, from the faculty of the Upper Valley Music Center, perform works of Bach, Strauss and Barber on Saturday afternoon at 3 at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon. Admission at the door is $15 for adults. To learn more, visit uvmusic.org.

The Cirque Us! troupe, whose Circus Smirkus alumni include Thetford resident Liam Gundlach, swings through the Upper Valley this weekend, to perform on the theme of “DreamCycle” at 2 in the afternoon and 7 at night on Saturday and Sunday at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. To reserve tickets ($15 to $18 plus a processing fee) and to learn more, visit thecirqueus.com. Admission at the door is $20.

The Trillium Children’s Performing Arts Company stages Princess!, the late Nancy Dingman Watson’s musical adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel A Little Princess on Sunday afternoon at 4, at Norwich’s Marion Cross School. Under the direction of Irina Khutsieva, students of Norwich-based piano teacher Victoria Dobrushina act, sing, dance and play music composed by Etna resident Clyde Watson. Admission is free.

Soulfix sets the rhythm for the Upper Valley Dance Club’s monthly gathering at the Richard Black Center in Hanover on Saturday night from 8 to 11. Admission is $5 to $10. The club also offers a lesson in West Coast Swing ($5 to $10) at 6 and a free lesson in swing at 7:30. To learn more, visit freewebs.com/uppervalleydanceclub or call 603-369-2936.

The New London Barn Playhouse raises the curtain on its production of The Secret Garden with performances on Wednesday afternoon at 2 and Wednesday night at 7:30. The musical runs through July 9. For tickets ($20 to $40) and more information, visit nlbarn.org or call 603-526-6710.

Students and faculty from Interplay Jazz & Arts annual summer camp set the big-band rhythm for swing dancing at the Little Theater in Woodstock on Wednesday night from 8 to 11. To reserve tickets ($20) and learn more, visit interplayjazz.org.

Theater/Performance Art

The New London Barn Playhouse wraps its season-opening production of the musical Godspell with performances at 7:30 tonight, Friday night and Saturday night and at 5 on Sunday afternoon. For tickets ($20 to $40) and for more information about this and subsequent shows, visit nlbarn.org or call 603-526-6710.

On the theme of “SS Revels North,” performers from Revels North’s Summer Revels program celebrate the solstice with nautical entertainment at the Norwich Green on Saturday night at 7. While admission is free, donations are welcome. The green opens at 5:30 with activities, crafts and food tents. To learn more, visit revelsnorth.org

The Lincoln, N.H.-based IMPACT Theater Company performs AnansiKeeper of the Stories at the Claremont Opera House on Monday morning, in the kickoff to the venue’s weekly series of musical adaptations of popular fairy tales. This coming week’s musical, about a spider who outwits a sky god to bring stories back to Earth, starts at 10. General admission tickets cost $6. For more information, visit claremontoperahouse.org.

Music

The 17th annual Jenny Brook Bluegrass Festival begins this morning and runs through Sunday afternoon at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds. Headliner Ricky Skaggs plays a 90-minute set with Kentucky Thunder on Friday night at 8. Among the acts playing throughout the festival will be the Rickey Wasson Band, Dreamcatcher, Karl Shiflett, the Seth Sawyer Band and The Gibson Brothers. For single- and multiple-day tickets and more information, visit jennybrookbluegrass.com or email candi@jennybrookbluegrass.com.

Larry Allen Brown leads The Acoustic Earth Orchestra to the former Clark Farm in Barnard tonight at 5:30, to play folk songs and tunes during the weekly Feast and Field Market. Admission is free.

At press time, a few seats remained for the concert, benefiting the Rusty Berrings Skate Park in West Lebanon, that Michael Franti & Spearhead are scheduled to perform at the Lebanon Opera House tonight at 7:30. For tickets ($59.50 to $75) and more information, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-0400.

Bassist Peter Concilio, drummer Tim Gilmore and bass clarinetist Quincy Saul play the jazz compositions of pianist Sonny Saul at Saul’s Pleasant Street Books in Woodstock tonight at 8. While admission is free, donations are welcome.

If you miss this show, or want to hear more, Saul will perform on June 30 at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret, where his accompanists will include bassist Bill Martin, drummer Pete Michelenie, clarinetist Quincy Saul and soprano Luette Saul. Tickets for next week’s show cost $10 at the door; to learn more, visit artistreevt.org .

Guitarist Peter Ciluzzi performs at The Skinny Pancake in Hanover tonight at 8:30, and Billy Wylder rocks the venue on Saturday night from 9 to 11. To reserve tickets ($10) to either show, and to learn more, visit skinnypancake.com. Admission at the door is $12.

Cellist Maxim Kozlov and pianist Sakiko Ohashi play works of Shostakovich and Schumann at the ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret on Friday night at 7:30. Admission is $10. To learn more, visit artistreevt.org.

Fred Haas, founder of the Interplay Jazz & Arts summer festival and camp, talks about “Jazz and the Art of Listening” at Woodstock’s Norman Williams Public Library at 10:30 Saturday morning. To learn more, visit interplayjazzandarts.org.

The Boston Civic Orchestra performs works of Rossini, Mozart Bizet, Brahms and Georges Hue at the Colby-Sawyer College’s Sawyer Center Theater in New London on Saturday night at 7:30. For tickets ($5 to $25) and more information about this and subsequent concerts (passes for the full series cost $100) in the Summer Music Associates series, visit summermusicassociates.org or call 603-526-8234. Tickets also are available in New London at the Tatewell Gallery, Morgan Hill Bookstore and the chamber of commerce.

Anne Mapplebeck and Peter Neri of the ensemble Still More Cats cover a wide range of bands and genres on the common in Strafford on Tuesday night at 6. While admission is free, donations are welcome.

The country ensemble Oxford & Clark plays country at Lyman Point Park in White River Junction on Wednesday night at 6:30.

Dance

The Raqs Salaam Dance Theater troupe performs at Colburn Park in Lebanon on Monday night at 6:30. A free introduction to belly dancing follows the performance.

Bar and Club Circuit

The blues ensemble Kid Pinky performs at the Taverne on the Square in Claremont tonight at 7. Jack Lawless and Rebecca Mae play a set of country on Friday night at 8, followed by The Squids on Saturday night at 8.

Glass Half Full pulls into Windsor Station tonight at 7:30 to play a set of rock. Following the ensemble to the stage is the Burlington-based, experimental rock-fusion band Swimmer on Friday night at 9:30.

Singer-guitarist David Greenfield performs in the tavern at Jesse’s in Hanover on Friday evening starting at 5.

Singer-songwriter Chris Powers kicks off the weekend of music at Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon on Friday night at 8. And on Saturday night at 9, singer-songwriter Tequila Jim debuts at the venue.

Acoustic Truffle appears at the Salt hill Pub in downtown Lebanon on Friday night at 9, followed on Saturday night at 8 by Alex Smith & The Mountain Sound.

Alex Smith & The Mountain Sound play Salt hill Pub in Newport on Friday night at 9. Guitarist Ted Mortimer performs there on Saturday night at 8.

Singer-songwriter Luke Johanson plays the Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Saturday night at 8.

Singer-guitarist Fred Kelecy appears at the Stone Arch Bakery in Lebanon on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Open Mics

Jim Yeager hosts an open mic at ArtisTree Community Arts Center in South Pomfret tonight at 7.

Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic starting at 7:30 on Thursday nights. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.

String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

Joe Stallsmith leads a weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass at Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Monday nights at 6.

Bradford’s Colatina Exit holds an open mic on Tuesday nights at 8.

Jim Yeager hosts his weekly open mic at Hartland’s Skunk Hollow Tavern at 8:30 on Wednesday night.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.