The urban dog is a sophisticated beast, well-versed in the mannerisms and social mores of city living. It values proper education and good grooming, recognizes (and forgives) bad breeding and class distinctions, and schedules daily social affairs around its early-morning piss and after-work dump, all within the strictures of the 9-to-5 grind. At 8 a.m and 5:30 p.m., nearly every open space in the District doubles as a bark park, where Washington’s yuppies, guppies, and buppies come to trot their puppies and participate in what choreographers Allison Orr and Sarah Lowing call the “daily dance of life.”
“There’s a real dog culture here, a whole dog-walker thing where people who would never identify themselves as dancers participate in these elaborate routines together every day,” says Orr.
“I believe that people are dancing all the time, and we just don’t notice it or call it dancing. By setting people’s ordinary habits to music, you can highlight relationships that were always there but were never noticed before.”
Dances for Dogs and People Who Walk Them is the duo’s first
project together. It represents part of their mission to bring contemporary dance to new audiences in unusual places. Orr’s previous work includes a master’s thesis project she directed at Mills College titled Group Dance for Seven Groundskeepers, a study in absurdist realism set to Vivaldi’s “Spring.” She conceived the idea for Dances for Dogs while working with Lowing at Dance Exchange in Takoma Park and watching Lowing interact with her dog, Longfellow, a blind chocolate Labrador retriever.
The Dances for Dogs program includes “Paw Deux Dogs,” a duet by Lowing and Longfellow; the farcical quartet “Two Leashes/Four Hands”; a trio (one walker, two dogs); and the title piece, a collection of synchronized spatial patterns for an ensemble of 15 dogs and their owners.
“This whole thing with animals is kind of a movement in contemporary dance right now, and it’s a great way to get new people involved,” says Orr. The cable channel Animal Planet aired the first of its Canine Freestyle sport-dance competitions last month, and on March 19, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange will employ the Canine Flyers troupe in its performance of In Praise of Animals at Lisner Auditorium.
At a recent rehearsal at Malcolm X Park, Orr directed the unlikely cast of dancers in the rain for more than an hour. Lowing, who was dancing in a yellow slicker and huge rubber boots with her profoundly uninterested canine companion, offered tidbits of practical advice, such as: “If your dog has business to attend to during the dance, just scoop it up with a plastic bag and discreetly sashay your way over to the garbage can.”
Dances for Dogs and People Who Walk Them at Malcolm X Park/Meridian Hill, Sunday, March 14, at 4 p.m. Free.