Jennifer Arave’s “Pardon Me, Do You Speak Dog?” part one: “Dog Minutes”

(I should be clear: I don’t speak dog. I’m not a dog person. I have a dog but I don’t think that makes much difference — or matters much.)

What was I looking at?

I knew the studio. So what’s new for this project? The mirror with the picture of the pit bull. The stuffed dog toys. The dog bed. The pile of treats, water, and dog accoutrements. The pink blanket. The blue tape on the floor. The video projected on the back wall of a dog walking in a tub of water. The microphone on a stand. The amplifier. The paper signs and the in/out boxes. Jennifer sitting in a chair. The dog, Audrey, the pit bull terrier.

The video of Audrey in the therapeutic tub filled the back wall and took much of my attention. It’s on a loop, so I saw her walking with a limp in water with an injured rear leg, heard the same sounds and words several times. In one way, she’s not getting anywhere. But in another way, she is: clearly her leg has improved. Audrey’s sitting here with what seems like a perfectly normal functioning rear leg. I watched Jennifer work on teaching Audrey to touch her (Jennifer’s) hand with her (Audrey’s) nose. Sometimes they both sat: Jennifer in her chair facing out, Audrey more prone on her dog bed. Jennifer gave Audrey a thorough brushing, fed her treats. Other people were there, sitting on the couches with me.

I don’t know what to look at so I look at as much of everything as I can. Even so I can’t put things together. Why do they all seem so discreet? I wrote comments and questions as instructed, but I didn’t read any into the microphone — I was the first one to write and I’m only supposed to read others’. This is the first in a series so I look at this as laying the groundwork for something. I feel my confusion and uncertainty is acceptable — you always learn as you go along. It’s a kind of list-making.

That is what happened to me as I watched, I would notice things, events, images, activities, and then search for the next thing. I was not able to string together or connect what I was seeing, witnessing, so I kept searching.

There is something in the interaction between an animal and a human that is rich with possible interest. They say don’t get on stage with an animal or a child, but that’s Old Theatre talking. There’s a possibility of representation that dogs don’t participate in. They don’t pretend (at least not in the same way people do when they get up in front of other people). So to do so intentionally and explore this relationship in performance is a big, beautiful, and very difficult thing. (Old Theatre has too many hangups. Now we can see how their fears are our inspirations.) You get to deal with all sorts of interesting questions, like: what is human? what is behavior? what does it mean to be who you are? how does what a dog do relate to what people do? what are the motivations behind behavior? How does pain affect who we are? As a dance, this can become a complex exploration of these questions through movement, gesture, proximity, etc.

I think I need either more information or a more focused environment to be able to generate connections between (for example) the healing of Audrey’s leg, the touch training, the care-giving, and our position as audience. I look forward to seeing how the movements of the Audrey and the movements of Jennifer relate, whether to each other or to ideas of identity and human behavior, for example. As a baseline for the next installments, this segment laid a broad groundwork that covered a lot of material, but did so without a focus specific enough for me to be able to predict or interpret how it will be moving forward. So far, it’s an open-ended list.

Charles Campbell

Jennifer Arave and Audrey, Pit Bull Terrier

“Pardon Me, Do You Speak Dog?” part one “Dog Minutes”

Skewed Studio

July 17, 2014

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