Taxpayers Foot Bill for 'Doggie Hamlet'

Actors in federally funded show yell and run at sheep in field for 'postmodern dance'

Still from "Doggie Hamlet" by Ann Carlson / Vimeo
December 20, 2016

The National Endowment for the Arts is spending $30,000 for a series of dance performances, including Doggie Hamlet.

The "conceptual art" features actors yelling and running at sheep in a field in Vermont. Dartmouth College received the funding in the latest round of NEA grants released this month.

The grant was awarded "[t]o support residencies, performances, and related activities at the Hopkins Center." According to the grant description, "[t]heater and multidisciplinary artists, musicians, composers, choreographers, and dancers will develop and present their projects through residencies. Events and participating artists include Mark Morris Dance Group's 'Layla and Majnun'; Dorrance Dance and partners Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely's 'The Blues Project'; and choreographer and performance artist Ann Carlson's 'Doggie Hamlet.'"

Doggie Hamlet involves several actors joining in a field to scare sheep and walk around wearing sheepskins.

Ann Carlson Doggie Hamlet-12.5 from Elsie Management on Vimeo.

"Doggie Hamlet is a full-length outdoor performance spectacle that weaves dance, music, visual and theatrical elements with aspects from competitive sheep herding trials," writes Elsie Management, a firm that promotes the performing arts. "The work is performed by four dancers, one boy, one American Sign Language interpreter, two herding dogs and a flock of sheep in a 30 x 50 foot fenced field."

"Doggie Hamlet recalls the bucolic impression of a landscape painting or a 3D pastoral poem," the group said. "The sheep, the dogs, the human performers, and the earth’s surface are at once performing as themselves and as living symbols in this work."

"Through story, motion, site and stillness Doggie Hamlet explores instinct, sentience, attachment, and loss, and is a beautiful and dreamlike spectacle weaving instinct, mystery, and movement into an unusual performance event," the group concluded.

An early sketch of Doggie Hamlet filmed two years ago shows actors donning sheepskins and lying down in a field.

A more recent performance in Westminster, Vt. this September features no lines from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, only an older man and woman yelling at a sheep dog and a confused herd of sheep.

Carlson, a "postmodern dance pioneer," has created works such as Animal Dance, where she danced onstage with baby goats, chickens, dogs, bunnies, goldfish, and a tortoise.

The New York Times has called Carlson's work heartbreaking.