British Invasion: Mark Morris' Full-Length Beatles Ballet Hits North America
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
Pepperland celebrates the semicentennial of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Clocking in at just under an hour, its kaleidoscopic color palette draws direct inspiration from the "tangerine trees and marmalade skies" psychedelizing The Beatles' 1967 record. The dance pays homage to the Fab Four and the Summer of Love with Elizabeth Kurtzman's mod-meets-flower-power costumes, Nick Kolin's trippy lighting design and an original Ethan Iverson score that creatively reimagines six songs on the record. Pepperland is its own pop sensation.
When it debuted in Liverpool as part of the citywide Sgt. Pepper at 50 celebrations in May 2017, Pepperland received rave reviews from the notoriously tough English critics. The Guardian anointed it "a gorgeously entertaining and witty tribute to the classic Beatles album," while The Independent called it "a big, confident blast of color and sound." The praise took Morris aback.
"I really didn't know what to expect," says the now-61-year-old dance artist, who is more internationally known for interpreting Purcell and Bach.
The founding director of the Brooklyn-based Mark Morris Dance Group only blew the dust off his old Beatles records at the request of Liverpool festival producer Sean Doran, who approached him early last year. Morris was reluctant at first to do it.
"I was worried that all Liverpudlians are fierce Beatles experts, ready to defend their great pride in a local product. Which is pretty much true," Morris says. "It was a big project to take on at short notice."
Mark Morris Dance Group in Pepperland. Photo by Gareth Jones, Courtesy MMDG
Besides the time crunch—he had less than four months to create Pepperland—"securing the rights for the use of the songs was quite complicated," Morris says. "The original album was just 40 minutes long. Ethan Iverson jumped in immediately to write the arrangements and a quantity of original music to flesh out the piece to concert length." Talk about "Fixing a Hole."
"Here we are, an American company with strange new musical arrangements, and minimal nostalgia, racing to finish the piece by opening night," Morris reflects. "So, it was a big relief to us that Pepperland was so enthusiastically received. A great surprise."
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.
You ever just wish that Kenneth MacMillan's iconic production of Romeo and Juliet could have a beautiful love child with the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey? (No, not Baz Luhrmann's version. We are purists here.)
Wish granted: Today, the trailer for a new film called Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words was released, featuring MacMillan's choreography and with what looks like all the cinematic glamour we could ever dream of: