Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

"Free Tickets for any Beatle!"


Mark Morris , Wales Millennium Centre , April-13-19
Peppered   by Mark Morris Choreographer Mark Morris is renowned and universally celebrated for his extraordinary musicality. But usually he is responding to his own deep love and understanding of baroque and classical music. His choreography often seeming to be intertwined with the structure of the music he is choreographing with, so that the dance seems almost to be generating the music, rather than the other way around - a curious phenomenon of the truly musical dance maker - Balanchine's work also does this.

In "Pepperland", his recent offering at the Wales Millennium Centre for two nights only, Morris was exploring instead the world of the Beatles' music of the 1960's, in particular their 1967 album, "Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", a departure for Morris and one which, although effective, funny and well exectuted as you would expect from his company, didn't seem to sit easily with his true interests.

The work is really a series of choreographic vignettes around each song. And here it has to be said that Morris always uses live music (he is super respectful of his music and of musicians and never fades or cuts short a musical score) and he had a great band lined up which included a wowing theremin, played by Rob Schwimmer, which at times sounded almost human. There was an excellent voice, Clinton Curtis, singing the familiar lyrics and composer Ethan Iverson made unusal and quirky arrangements of the Beatles songs, seven of them, interspersed with five of his own compositions, Iverson also played piano.

Recognisable Morris tropes are there, simple movements building in complexity with the music from the beginning of each section or vignette; light hearted and loving duets playing simply with notions of sexuality and sexual identity in "With a Little Help from my Friends". Group dances that exploit dance and music structures to the max. They work in circle formations, they break out and march, to the theme song's march time, and march again at various points throughout. Certain favorite Morris movements recur: a certain type of backward turn with leg and arms extended forward, leg and arm gestures simply executed with no overt "styling", a certain type of forward "attitude" turn. He works as a music composer might, with simple movement phrases repeated and then manipulated, inverted, used in cannon, passed to another dancer then performed in unison by the wole group etc. etc. But usually we are not so aware of this use of "harmony and counterpoint", as it were, usually it is integral to the work and not telling us, "this is how it's done".

The stage is alive with 60's style bright, pastel colours: yellows, reds, hot pinks, oranges, blues and purples. These bright colours of the dancers' trousers, mini skirts, shirts, turtle necks and little coats and jackets which they remove and put on again at different times (together with the dark glasses that they all wear at the beginning of show - costume design by Elizabeth Kurtzman -) are exactly matched by the lighting colours, all very reminiscent of the Sargent Pepper album cover and in tune with 60's zeitgeist, to create a warm and bright stage setting. Deep pastel shades in the stage and cyc lighting (or LED wall, hard to tell which) by Nick Kolin, give an intensely colourful background to the whole. At the foot of this changing, colourful back-ground is a miniature range of silver foil hills which also change colour and consistency with the lighting. Morris tells us in a Q&A session after the show that this scrunched mini "hill range" was made which real thermal blankets: set designer Johan Hencken's answer to his request for something "psychedelic and a little glassy".

Mark Morris company dancers are a variety of ages, shapes, ethnicities and sizes, all strong and disciplined movers. Answering an audience question in the after show Q&A about these dancers and their preparation for his work, Morris says, "Yes, they all "speak" could say its our lingua franca, and I like an assortment of people, cause it's more interesting!"

Another question gave us an insight into Morris's working process on Lennon-Mcartney's jokey "When I'm Sixty-Four", one of the most effective dances in Pepperland. The dancers begin in the easy, vaudeville, four-four rumpty-tum of the song which then progressively deteriorates as the music rhythms break down. Morris describes deciding on an exploration of the multiples of 6 and 4, so that the dancers keep the four-four going while the band breaks down, with half of them playing in five-four time and the others in six-four, "I thought it was an analogue for getting old, where you start out one way and end up another". It was certainly one of the wittiest and most virtuoso of the "vignettes". But of course, the piece is full of witty tricks and movement ideas, reflecting the wit and colour of this classic album.

Morris told us that "Pepperland" was a commision from the Liverpool Festival of 2017, celebrating the fifty years since the Sargent Pepper Album appeared. He also stated, half in jest, half in earnest, that he dis-likes the word entertain or entertaining to describe his work, he feels that he has somehow failed if described thus. But you could never say that Mark Morris has failed. He is too much a craftsman and an artist to possibly fail. What he does with his choreography and overall concept is witty, clever and, yes, entertaining. But in this case not as deeply affecting as his other work.

Another question from the audience ended the Q&A session and so the evening: had he had feed-back from any "living Beatle"? He replied that he was sure he would have heard if a Beatle had been in the audience, "But I'll give a free ticket to any Beatle who wants to see the show!"

Reviewed by: Jenny March

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