Mark Morris Dance Group: Pepperland – The Lowry, Salford


Choreography: Mark Morris

Music: The Beatles and Ethan Iverson

Reviewer: Peter Jacobs

PepperlandAmerican dance legend Mark Morris celebrates 1967 Beatles flagship album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pepperlandcreated at Sgt Pepper at 50Festival in Liverpool in 2017 at the Royal Court. Pepperland is now on tour in the UK with support from Dance Consortium, although the production has been supported by a number of partner organizations in the US and UK.

Pepperlandtake it Sgt Pepper the album as a musical and visual starting point and apprehends it through a Larger 60s kaleidoscope lens with a distinctly American perspective. The show has a colorful 1960s look that takes inspiration from Peter Blake’s iconic British pop art cover, thanks to Elizabeth Kurtzman’s main color block and graphic black and white costumes that reference mod looks and ’60s fashion with a cool couture vibe of’ 60s American sportswear. Johan Henckens’ set design with its surreal low hills of crumpled silver leaf nods to Warhol and Merce Cunningham and the Nick Kolin’s lighting matches Kurtzman’s use of bright colors to visually tie everything to the album. The whole show has a bright and colorful appearance that evokes a vivid impression of the mid-1960s.

Or Pepperlandbecomes a little more surreal is the soundtrack. Ethan Iverson is a former member of cult Minneapolis jazz trio The Bad Plus and a regular contributor to Mark Morris. Iverson basically took five songs from Sgt Pepper– the title song, With a little help from my friends, When I was sixty-four, In you without you and A day in the life – added Penny lane, which was apparently intended for the album, and then provided a number of tie-in tracks that tie those choices together. The result really doesn’t sound like the Beatles as everything is filtered through a predominantly jazz performance and the music performed live by the MMDG Music Ensemble (including Iverson) is delivered by a line-up disconnected from even the two experimental but classical guitars. of the Beatles. , bass, drums format: soprano sax, trombone, Theremin, piano and other keyboards and percussions. The vocals are delivered smoothly by Clinton Curtis, who has a warm and appealing voice, but even singing the Beatles’ most recognizable songs in this style of jazz, the overall effect is reminiscent of a thoughtful Billy Joel.

The band can certainly perform, but the arrangements give the music a disorienting and slightly surreal feel with Iverson pulling all the classic, fanfare, music hall and vaudeville notes that are incorporated into the more familiar Beatles pop. It’s like hearing them for the first time, which is both a refreshing and baffling feeling, especially when When I was sixty-four receives a complex, shifting, disruptive time signature and bizarre choreography goes hand in hand. Sometimes you just want to hear something more “Beatles”: A day in the life, for example, becomes almost entirely a sad, nauseating nocturnal by Theremin (Rob Schwimmer).

Or Pepperland gets really tricky, it’s the choreography. The entire show is presented in a fast paced jazz ballet style and the choreography somehow manages to be both too literal at the same time – they literally mimic the action at ‘Penny Lane’ right down to the firefighter. cleaning his fire truck – and yet incredibly difficult to follow: abstract and yet simplistic. The show also references groovy ’60s social dances, but often traced back to basic movements. There are a lot of straight arms and semaphores, jumps and tempo changes.

Thinking after the show, there are elements that are reminiscent of the more surreal elements of the Beatles films and other films of the 60s such as Oh what a beautiful war. It must be remembered that over fifty years ago Sgt Pepper is a portrayal of the Beatles themselves and of England during this era – childhood, family, eccentricity, Liverpool, light entertainment still ingrained in the music hall, barely post-war Britain. But these thoughts come later. During the show Pepperland is rather confusing, weirdly two-dimensional, and seemingly rooted in an American dance tradition and style of performance – relentlessly cheerful but neutral – that at times feels hopelessly dated and obtuse. But Morris’s musicality is undeniable.

Morris abuses recurring patterns – the image of the four in a line, the seated Buddha, the coded meaning of sunglasses, and certain movements such as holding dancers in the air as if they were driving cars or carrying their arms in the air. look like they’re flying. This is a large dance group – most of them are Morris mainstays – and he really enjoys bringing them in lines and small groups and sending them back and making the dancers do the same moves in directions. different. But he also manages to give all of his dancers some solo elements and there are some well-constructed moments that are a lot of fun. ‘Within You Without You’ is nice in its use of motif and mood, for example. Morris also mixes the sexes in a way that brings modernity and color. But overall Pepperland feels sanitized, filtered and lacks the nerve, sensuality, passion, courage, speed and any sense of the revolution or the counter-culture which it marked the dawn of. Everything is too static and stylized.

Pepperland is deeply strange. One wonders why in 2019 you are nourished by this strange American vision of British culture which is now over fifty years old. It might be the perfect dance-drama piece for a Britain that seems to cling to the past, terrified of the future and bewildered by the present. Maybe this is reflected in the age and whiteness of the audience. Maybe this is what “we” want. But is this what we need?

Reviewed March 29, 2019 | Image: Contribution

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