Pepperland was created by celebrated American choreographer Mark Morris at the request of the City of Liverpool for 2017’s Sgt. Pepper at 50 Festival, a season-long tribute to the ground-breaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band.
Two years on and the Mark Morris Dance Group have returned to the UK, this time to tour their Beatles inspired tribute and made the first of two appearances at Wales Millennium Centre on Friday evening.
Colourful, crazy and charismatic, the show begins with a long chord from the seven-piece band emulating the close of the original Sgt Pepper album from 1967. As the colourfully attired dancers unfurl on stage, the audience sample a feast of modern, jazz and vaudevillian dance. The familiar lyrics to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band are sung in baritone style by Clinton Curtis with a wildly differing arrangement to The Beatles original in pace and tempo provided by the band including Rob Schwimmer on the unearthly sounding Theremin.
Sgt Pepper’s… makes way for the introduction of Billy Shears and some of the characters that adorned the Pepper album cover in a comical sequence that sees dancers adopt poses of people from Sonny Liston to Marilyn Monroe. The Beatles arrive last and all the dancers morph into screaming fans and chase them off the stage.
Pepperland includes several new pieces of music from Ethan Iverson as well as 6 reinventions of Beatles compositions. Adagio is a beautiful celebration of universal love inspired by bringing people together regardless of sex and gender via the concept of Lonely-Hearts columns.
Next up is the music-hall scuffle of Lennon & McCartney’s When I’m Sixty-Four, seeing the dancers perform an energetic piece which sounds as if it is performed out of key via a warped gramophone record by the band. The dancers honour the performance by keeping time and then losing it making a surreal and comical presentation.
Other highlights include a performance of George Harrison’s Within You Without You, Lennon & McCartney’s Penny Lane (originally intended for the Pepper album but released as a single) and A Day in The Life. Among the stand-out original pieces are Iverson’s mod-pop flavoured Scherzo (inspired by a chord progression from Pepper and Petula Clark!) and Cadenza which acknowledges The Beatles classical influences with a hint of George Martin’s style in places.
The dancers themselves are fabulously colourful and cartoon-like (as if they have been lifted straight from the 1968 Yellow Submarine movie). Vibrant and fun choreography interspersed with seemingly pro-longed leaps which appear to move in slow-motion make Pepperland a joy to watch.
At 70 minutes, there’s a lot crammed in to Pepperland. I have to admit the show did leave me wanting more, maybe a few more and would certainly love to have seen how the Mark Morris Dance Group would have waltzed with Being for The Benefit of Mr Kite or swayed with Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds. Maybe there’s potential to return to Pepperland?
There’s a further performance of Pepperland at Wales Millennium Centre on April 13 at 8pm