Dog Suite (2000)

Duration: 11’
Cantata for soprano, oboe d’amore, and strings, with Amy Freston (soprano), Liz Kenwood-Herriott (oboe and oboe d’amore) and Ann Solomon and Patrick Jones (strings).
Choreography: Michael Keegan-Dolan
Lighting Designer: Kieron Docherty
Recording Engineer: Ian Gibson
First performed at the Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford as part of the 2000 Ballet Central National Tour.

When the choreographer submitted the concept of Dog Suite to the then Ballet Central artistic director, Greg Horsman, he was immediately hooked. Using his forensic powers of observation, Keegan-Dolan had noticed the social interplay in the parks of London not only of dogs, but of their owners as well, and quickly envisaged a brilliantly vivid and sharp dance piece. It centres around a tree, played by a dancer in red boots holding branches, and this serves as the axis for the adventures of the dogs and their owners. Overall, the dogs’ ‘humanity’ shines through, resplendent as they are in their dog unitards, dyed by Sheila White, and at the end the humans take their curtain call on all fours.

The music is a spoof Italian cantata in the Handelian style, a nod of recognition at Keegan-Dolan’s choreography of Ariodante for English National Opera. The Italian nonsense words drew heavily on the composer’s sojourn in Verona and his friends’ crazy dog, Ugo. The cantata is in five sections, a bright opening concertante movement, a siciliana, a gigue, a bourée and the final courante; in each section the same little refrain gradually asserts itself. At the end the music disappears off through the park gates so as to speak, fragmenting as if the singer is singing along to a ‘walkman’ in a world of her own.

Soprano, Amy Freston, a graduate of Ballet Central, who was then embarking on her operatic career, shows great range of texture and colour, as well as high good humour. In fact the elements of the score were recorded separately over a harpsichord track on a 16 track minidisc that had already been laid down. In the end, the string trio had to be recorded in the small staff room at Central School of Ballet because of the Sunday morning road drilling of Herbal Hill, at least proving handy for the coffee break. The piece was finally mixed down at the Glasgow Warehouse by recording engineer, Ian Gibson. Even that was not the end of it, as we walked away with the wrong minidisc and had to telephone from the airport parking bus at Stansted!