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Brighton Festival: Laurie Anderson @ Brighton Dome

Friday 05 June 2015
Words Ailis Mara

No clue to this was given in introduction to ‘All the Animals’. Laurie Anderson confirmed simply that the narrative was composed from a collection of previously told animal themed stories.


With the stage set with flickering candles, a giant white screen, a desk and two chairs, birdsong was piped around the auditorium. Commencing with a tale (which could be considered her most personal) of her Mothers last words, she talked of how during visits her mother would address invisible animals on the ceiling from her hospital bed, the family frequently reminding her that she was one the ward. Distanced by time rather than emotional detachment, she recounted observations of her mothers change in mental state. Transitioning to a monologue of her mother’s voice politely thanking the animals individually as she drifted away.


Moving on she recalled the sudden and unexpected demise of her fathers horse. Illustrating the horror and visual poetry of the event, Laurie undercut the emotional impact of the incident by her Mothers subsequent actions. Returning to the corpse, they found it bloated and unrecognizable. Her mother removed the tail for the practical purpose of making a fly swat. Both potentially traumatic events were acknowledged for their impact, but she did not dwell.


Next the tale of birds endlessly traversing the sky before there was an Earth. The death of a Larks father sparks the creation of memory. With no practical solution for disposing of the body the Lark hits upon the idea of storing the body in the back of her head.


For the majority of the show the large screen dominating the stage had a indistinct background that seemed like cascades of blues merging into each other. The only change to this came when a list of extinct animals began to scroll down the screen. Andersons distorted voice detailed a friend’s acquisition of the book they were collected in, and her fascination with it. The books author lauded the undertaking of compiling the book, Anderson noted that the animals detailed were now only remarkable as all that remained was this list of the their names.


In a continuation of her self-deprecating and wry humor she discussed a return to reading Melville’s Moby Dick and decision to create a multi disciplinary opera, based on her favorite tome. An experience she advised the audience against undertaking. Additional tales included the musical connection between herself and an Owl resulting in an inadvertent duet at a concert in Italy. The tale of how a young girl and a rabbit on a plane helped her through her fear of flying.


Anderson is a fascinating raconteur. Her speaking voice is soothing and animated. Closing with a seemingly lighthearted tale of her journeys of discovery with her dog Lolabelle. She recounted a holiday where Lollabelle’s universe changed after the near attack of two birds of prey.  She pondered where she could recall seeing a similar expression to that of her pet. The dog’s gaze now focused on the new threat offered from above.  It was in the face of New Yorkers post-911, now aware that the threat was now and would be forever more from above.


Ever skillful on not letting the audience ponder too much, she closed with a lighthearted tale. A concert for dogs on Sydney Harbor, the most pure and appreciative of audiences she said. As a thank you for their attentiveness she encouraged them to bark for no reason other than that they could.


And then, just as quickly as she had appeared she was gone.