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Mark Morris Dance Group ~ Pepperland ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
November 16, 2019 

Mark Morris Dance Group_Pepperland – Noah Vinson (forwground) and Dallas McMurray (background) ~ Photo by Mat Hayward

“It was 50 years ago today.  Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.  They’ve been going in and out of style, but they’re guaranteed to make you smile.” – – lyrics by Paul McCartney.  And smile we did with this joyfully exuberant reinterpretation by the Mark Morris Dance Group.  With no formulaic restrictions on movement and a choreography as light and unfettered as a butterfly on the wing, the dances flow as freely as the original music cleverly deconstructed by Composer Ethan Iverson.  It’s bouncy, angular and humor-inducing, shouldered by the gravitas of George Harrison’s lyrics in the Indian-inspired raga, “Within You and Without You”, that is mesmerizing, timely and deeply mystical.

Mark Morris Dance Group – Pepperland~ Photo by Mat Hayward

The performance begins with an intro of the initial characters – Billy Shears (whom we expected), then Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Shirley Temple, Sonny Liston!, Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein, and other intriguing celebrities who later morph into miming, interpretive dancers that echo flight and fantasy interpreting the myriad of styles reflected in the album – from Jazz and Vaudeville to the strains of Music Hall, the avant-garde, and top of the pops.

Crayon-colored costumes by Elizabeth Kurtzman recall the aesthetics of artist Peter Max and author Tom Wolfe’s psychedelic-inspired, counter-culture celebration novel, “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” as well as the fashions of André Courrèges and London’s Carnaby Street of the same 60’s dynamic.

Mark Morris Dance Group – Pepperland ~ Photo by Mat Hayward

Accompanied by vocalist Clinton Curtis and a five-piece band that includes a soprano sax, trombone, keyboard and percussionist, the sound is further heightened by Ethan Iverson on the piano and the lilting strains of the avant-garde electronic instrument called a theremin played by Rob Schwimmer.  This fantasy-like reinterpretation of the original Beatles music (Yes, the songs are still recognizable) draws from both the minimalist stylings of composer Phillip Glass and 60’s dances.  Frug, anyone?

Seven Beatles compositions from the album are augmented by ‘Magna Carta’, ‘Adagio’, ‘Allegro’ and ‘Scherzo’.  One of the dances is a riff on Ringo’s song, “When I’m 64”.  It places the dancers shoulder-to-shoulder, chorus line style, all doing a different dance. So original!

Highly recommended.

Additional musicians – Sam Newsome on soprano saxophone; Jacob Garchik on trombone; Colin Fowler on keyboard; and Vinnie Sperrazza on percussion.

Mark Morris Dance Group – Pepperland ~ Photo by Mat Hayward

Dancers – Mica Bernas, Karlie Budge, Brandon Cournay, John Eirich, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Lesley Garrison, Lauren Grant, Sarah Haarmann, Deepa Liegel, Aaron Loux, Laurel Lynch, Matthew McLaughlin, Dallas McMurray, Minga Prather, Brandon Randolph, Nicole Sabella, Christina Sahaida, Billy Smith, Noah Vinson, and Jammie Walker.

At the Kennedy Center through November 16th .

Mark Morris will be in conversation with Wesley Stace, co-author of his new book, “Out Loud: A Memoir” on Sunday, November 17th between 5-6pm at Politics and Prose Bookstore – 5015 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008

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