The Beatles’ most famous album is now being given a radical reimagining by the Mark Morris Dance Group. Ruth Seavers finds out more from dancer Brandon Randolph.
Mark Morris and Ethan Iverson’s Pepperland is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ totemic LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, created at the request of the city of Liverpool to kick off its Sgt. Pepper At 50 festival in 2017. Mark Morris has been lauded for his use of and dedication to live music in theatre.
Dancer Brandon Randolph says that Mark is well known for his musicality, creating movement that matches the music that you’re listening to. “In this case for new audiences, it’s visually and aurally pleasing, especially with Pepperland – vibrant, bright colours, 60s suits, the women are wearing dresses and skirts. And partnering that is the music – six songs from the Sgt. Pepper album and six original songs, making up the 12 sections that you’ll see. Almost everyone in the UK will be familiar with The Beatles and these arrangements make it a little bit more danceable for us, the professional performing artists. But it is also a reminder for people who are nostalgic. So Morris really takes you on a one hour adventure with this particular album and what it meant to him.”
Choreographing the show entirely himself, Morris collaborated with New York jazz musician and critic Ethan Iverson. “He was playing with this view of how he wanted things to work, shifting around sections and learning phrases for a very long time,” says Randolph.
Morris drew on contemporary dance from the album’s late 60s release date, but mixes it up plenty in terms of style, genre and era for Pepperland. What kind of styles is he given to using?
“All of the above! His background is in folk dancing so there are some remnants of that but it’s more town hall, West Side Story, jazz, his own style, the Charleston. He pulls from several different decades but he makes it cohesive how it’s presented.”
Mark grew up in Seattle, studying Croatian folk dancing, flamenco and ballet. “He’s been very interested in social dancing, not just in Western cultures – all around, having been to India several times and had the pleasure of working with very famous dancers from that country,” says Randolph.
The Mark Morris Dance Group started in 1980, with a few of Morris’ peers who believed in his work. “It started more in modern dance and he has certainly developed his style and aesthetic – he’s not very one-note, if you will. And the dancers – we all have different backgrounds. Everyone has mostly studied ballet, to some degree, but there’s a lot of people that started in contemporary and modern dance training,”
This magpie-esque approach doesn’t stop the Mark Morris Dance Group from approaching dance in a way that might make it more appealing. “All in all, we try not to allow it to affect us, or what Mark wants us to do with his work, and I think ultimately that’s the most important thing.”
Positive reviews thus far give a nod to the show’s costume design and its use of “psychedelic pastiche” – adding to the musical Beatles journey. Pepperland fits very well into the die-hard/fan mania category, but there’s still plenty that’s just as interesting to new audiences with a fresh reimagining of Stg Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band live on stage.
words Ruth Seavers
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Fri 12 + Sat 13 Apr. Tickets: £16.50-£32.50. Info: 029 2063 6464 / www.wmc.org.uk