Bringing an American dance troupe of fourteen and an eight-piece band on tour to the UK & Ireland is not something you can do on a whim. It requires planning and, not least, funding. This is what Dance Consortium do – a group of theatres with a shared passion for contemporary dance who, according to their website “find dance companies and productions that will excite, challenge, entertain and inspire their audiences.”
This then is how the Mark Morris Dance Group’s production “Pepperland” arrived in Norwich’s Theatre Royal this week.
Fifty-two years ago in northwest London, The Beatles were recording songs for what many believe to be the worlds’ first concept album: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”. The recordings were experimental. Having retired from touring the previous year, the band knew that they would never have to play this music live, and so were free to experiment with the technology available at Abbey Road Studios.
What Mark Morris, in collaboration with composer Ethan Iverson, has created is an homage to Sgt Pepper, experimenting with music, light and movement. The difference to the album recording being that Pepperland is very much a live show. The album famously finishes on ‘the long note’ which is where Pepperland begins in a riot of sixties colour – did we really wear yellow trousers, orange shirts and purple waistcoats?
As you would expect, it is the movement that fascinates. The dancers glide about the stage in faultlessly choreographed movements, the bright primary colours of the 1960s emphasising each subtle nuance.
Musically what worked for me was when the score kept closest to the original, the deliberate discord in “sixty-four” was interesting to say the least. Musically, I felt the show was more experimental jazz than sixties psychedelia, but none the less interesting for that. Clinton Curtis’ “narrates” the show in song, using the original lyrics by Lennon & McCartney, but delivered in a deliberate monotone, in sharp contrast to the colour behind him.
If it were at all possible, to discuss this production with George Martin it would make for a very interesting conversation. Much like the modern day Mini by BMW, is similar to the original 1960s design by Alec Issigonis, but is so totally different, this is the same way Pepperland differs, but shares so much with Sgt. Pepper.