Pepperland: Mark Morris Dance Group: BAM Howard Gilman Opera House 10 May 2019

Mark Morris and the Beatles? Could there be a more fun combination? As soon as I saw the ads for this, I told the rest of our concert-going troupe and several of us got tickets – me, rtb, peg, and mollyT.


BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House holds over 2100 people and the show was sold out (and I am sure it was sold out the other nights of its run). And since it is such a big house, our seats were up in the balcony. But it turned out to be the perfect place to view the dance because we could see everything. The stage was bare except for what looked like small hills of crumpled up tin foil in the back.

The dance uses a lot of the songs from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band interspersed with original music. As always, it was all live music by the MMDG Music Ensemble – Clinton Curtis (vocals), Sam Newsome (soprano saxophone), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Rob Schwimmer (thermin), Ethan Iverson (piano), Colin Fowler (keyboard), and Vinne Sperrazza (percussion). Iverson did the new arrangements of the Beatles’ songs.

Pepperland was originally created for the 50th anniversary of the album and performed in Liverpool for the Sgt. Pepper at 50 Festival. The album ends with a sustained chord (heard longer than normal because George Martin had them turn up the volume so high that you can hear the air conditioning as the chord fades out). The dancers are wearing brightly colored 1960s inspired street clothes and are standing in a spiral that slowly unwraps during opening “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and long ending chord from the reprise. I was laughing to myself because of Curtis’ vocals. Not because they were funny but because he was singing the song with a NY accent and whenever he sang “band” it sounded so strange after living all these years with the Beatles’ Liverpudlian pronunciations.

(The song descriptions are paraphrased from the BAMbill.)

During “Magna Carta” the names of many of the people who are on the album cover are announced and the dancers come out to play the role of each person and they pose and stand still. Then the Beatles are announced and suddenly the rest of the dancers have to be held back because they are screaming teenagers and they chase the Beatles off the stage.

“With a Little Help From My Friends” has several routines that show off what I like so much about Morris’ choreography. Gender does not matter. Men carry men. Women carry women. Men carry women off stage. Women carry men off stage. Ringo Starr sings the song with confidence. The dancers are more vulnerable.

“Adagio” portrays a Lonely Hearts advertisement. “When I’m Sixty-Four” is a music-hall scuffle that gives us 4, 5, and 6 (5 is between 6 and 4) counts beneath it. “Allegro” grows out of one trombone line in “Sgt. Pepper” and turns it into a full song. “Within You Without You” keeps all of George Harrison’s hippie psychedelic feeling both in the music and in the dance. “Scherzo” has the Beatles go mod. “Wilbur Scoville” is a blues number taken from the first blues lick heard on the album. The horns blow very hot and Wilbur Scoville invented the heat scale for hot peppers, so does that make him the original Sgt. Pepper? Paul McCartney saw Bach’s “Brandenburg 2” on TV and told Martin to add piccolo trumpet to “Penny Lane,” so “Cadenza” gives us some European classical, which the Beatles used freely in their music.

The dancers acted out “Penny Lane.” Although not on the album, it was supposed to be. “A Day in the Life” gives us life with the dancers acting out and the theremin behind them. John Lennon’s part is not sung and then McCartney’s section is sung.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” takes us into the next decade with disco on the horizon. (According to the notes there was a disco ball on stage but we could not see it from our vantage point. It is disappointing that directors and set designers do not go up in the balcony to see how the set looks.)

The show is amazing – I love how Morris’ mind works. It is unique and he comes up with little moments and grand gestures that I would never expect. Even the saddest moments have bursts of joy.

Pepperland is coming to several cities this year. See it.

The dancers are Mica Bernas, Sam Black, Brandon Cournay, John Eirich, Domingo Estrada, Jr., Lesley Garrison, Lauren Grant, Sarah Haarmann, Laurel Lynch, Dallas McMurray, Brandon Randolph, Nicole Sabella, Christina Sahaida, Billy Smith, and Noah Vinson.

Set design was by Johan Henckens, costume design by Elizabeth Kurtzman, and lighting design by Nick Kolin. All of them did a fantastic job.

Morris took several well-deserved curtain calls.

Pepperland trailer:

There are other bits of performances on YouTube.

Photos are taken from various websites:









By Carene Lydia Lopez