Pepperland – Bord Gais Theatre – Review by Frank L
Pepperland created by Mark Morris
30 Apr 2019 – 1 May 2019 at the Bord Gais Theatre, Dublin
Morris delves (along with his musical collaborator Ethan Iveson) into the Beatles album ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ to create a musical and dance celebration of the period, when Carnaby Street clothes shops and Mary Quant in the King’s Road released a panoply of colour and new fashions into what had been a drab scene for a very long time. Iveson, once of jazz band the Bad Plus, created for the purpose of this production a band which consists of Colin Fowler (organ, harpsichord, keyboard), Clinton Curtis (vocals), Jacob Garchik (Trombone), Sam Newsome (Soprano Sax), Rob Schwimmer (Theremin), Vinnie Sperrazza (Percussion) and George Shevstov (Keyboard). The result is an eclectic music which complements what is to be seen on stage.
A selection of five songs from the Beatles famous album are taken by Iveson and reworked along with ‘Penny Lane’ which was originally intended to be included on the album but was not. These pieces are interspersed with new work created by Iveson with classical titles such adagio, allegro, scherzo and cadenza. It is a glorious mix.
The set is an open space with at the back of the stage, not more than three feet high, a row of crushed silver foil which looks like a distant range of mountains or a wave breaking along a beach. But it reflects the light, so when the colours alters it follows.
What is riveting is the Mark Morris Dance Group who are dressed in clothes which (according to Morris in the Q and A after the show) as regards colours and cut are faithful to the early days of Carnaby street. The style and strong colours make for quite a spectacle. In addition Morris has created a never ending series of movements for his troupe which keep on evolving like a kaleidoscope. It was difficult for the eye to keep up. What added to the glory is Morris’s confidence to muddle things for example he used female dancers to lift occasionally, an activity usually reserved for the male. In this vein, there is a section where the world of lonely hearts is recalled. Reference is made to the enclosing of a stamp addressed envelope. The resulting encounters are between a girl and a girl, a boy and a girl and a boy and a boy. This gave to the performance a freedom which the Swinging Sixties itself failed to achieve.
The members of the Mark Morris Dance Group come in a satisfying variety of shapes, sizes and facial features. What they have in common is a superlative ability to dance and bring to life the music. The constant changing of the formations, the innovation of their bodily movements, their ability to synchronize effortlessly with each other demonstrated a level of expertise which is a joy to see.
It lasts a little over an hour and at the end there is a strong sense of having seen a unique and memorable new artistic creation which has enchanted the eye and the ear and elevated the mind.