The first thing you’ll notice about the dancers in Mark Morris Dance Group’s “Pepperland” is their costumes. A mix of 1960s mod and flower-child sensibilities, the miniskirts, tights, and suits in bright shades of yellow, orange, and turquoise make the performers look like they stepped right out of the days when “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was first released.
Then there’s the music: playful arrangements of six songs off The Beatles’ masterpiece, including “A Day in the Life” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.” These familiar songs are interspersed with original pieces inspired by the album. Composed by avant-garde jazz pianist Ethan Iverson for a chamber music ensemble of voice, theremin, soprano sax, trombone, and keyboards, the score melds classical and world music with jazz.
Both blend seamlessly with Mark Morris’ choreography, a joyful combination of modern dance and ballet. The resulting dance is more than mere tribute to the seminal album, which Morris calls “a never-beforeheard confluence of music world conventions; a witty, sad, surprising, and moving musical trip.” Rather, his work is a meditation on its themes, which explains why it’s unpredictable, bright, and even funny at times. It offers everything dance lovers have come to expect from the Mark Morris Dance Group—surprising, inventive choreography set to live music created specifically for the piece.
Commissioned by the city of Liverpool to mark the 50th anniversary of the album, the evening-length work kicked off the Sgt. Pepper at 50 Festival in 2017. The 17 dancers who performed there have been on the road ever since, bringing the show to audiences from New York to Dublin and nearly a dozen venues across England. They’ll land at Segerstrom Center for three performances on June 14 and 15.
“We’re thrilled to welcome the Mark Morris Dance Group back to the Center,” says Judy Morr, the venue’s executive vice president. “In all of his works, there is that fresh creativity and insight. They are unique and serious works, yet, as with ‘Pepperland,’ there can be a wonderful playfulness and uninhibited sense of joy and fun.”
Read more about “Pepperland” at scfta.org