Choreographer Mark Morris was commissioned by the city of Liverpool to create a dance piece to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pepperland is the happy result, and New York-based Mark Morris Dance Group has been touring the program ever since its debut in 2017. Now Pepperland has returned to the UK with the aid of Dance Consortium:
The fantastic response from audiences persuaded us that [Pepperland] was a show that deserved to be seen across the nation – we hope you enjoy it!– Ros Robins, Executive Director
Mark Morris Dance Group: Pepperland Review
The agile North American dance group blasts through seven Beatles songs, some live arrangements more recognizable than others, in one uninterrupted hour. Thankfully, the movement material isn’t too dense.
Pepperland is one of those rare modern dance pieces that can be appreciated without much analysis. Unless you insist upon dissecting the Ethan Iverson’s music compositions, this Mark Morris production is easy to enjoy. As a majority of Brits would classically understate: “It’s just a bit of fun, really.”
As the first trills of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sound, vibrantly dressed dancers tromp on stage, swinging their straight arms in sync, as if they’re on Broadway. They occasionally sprinkle in a zippy non-traditional ballet petit allegro, throwing their body off center during the parallel assemblé.
The brief “welcome to the Lonely Hearts Club Band” continues with a roll call of sorts. An announcer introduces famous people, prompting dancers to strike an iconic pose: a darling Shirley Temple ready to tap dance, Marilyn Monroe preserving her modesty from a gust of wind and Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue. Keep an eye out to see if you can spot some of these shapes elsewhere in the show.
You’ll also notice period-specific dance during the show. A court dance reflects the album’s classical music references, although they’ve revved up the choreography with casual pirouettes and high kicks. Other period-specific dances include the Charleston, the Monkey arms accentuated by incredibly articulate spinal undulations and a staccato version of the Twist.
Even the dancers’ simple travelling steps stir up images of Scooby-Doo and his mystery solving compadres of the late sixties. They lean forward and march, kicking their shins out like Shaggy’s unique gait. Then they exaggeratedly pedal heel-toe across the stage, but their torso seems to glide smoothly through the space, unaffected.
Pepperland is kaleidoscopically beautiful, seamlessly transitioning from scene to scene.
During one point, the theremin carries the melody as pairs of dancers swirl around stage, like a sweeping colourful paisley pattern. Ladies rocket across stage, flanked by two men that lift them into lovely slow motion leaps. Mica Bernas is also ferried around stage, but she maintains an arched back superwoman position, eyes hopefully cast up as she is carried into the wings. The show evokes a sense of hope, whimsy and wonder.
Have you seen Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland on tour? If so, where did you watch The Beatles-inspired show, and what do you think? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.