News

British Invasion: Mark Morris' Full-Length Beatles Ballet Hits North America

Mark Morris Dance Group in Pepperland. Photo by Gareth Jones, Courtesy MMDG

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."

The Conversation
News
Courtesy Ritzel

Capezio, Bloch, So Dança, Gaynor Minden.

At the top of the line, dancers have plenty of quality footwear options to choose from, and in most metropolitan areas, stores to go try them on. But for many of North America's most economically disadvantaged dance students, there has often been just one option for purchasing footwear in person: Payless ShoeSource.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Jayme Thornton

When Sonya Tayeh saw Moulin Rouge! for the first time, on opening night at a movie theater in Detroit, she remembers not only being inspired by the story, but noticing the way it was filmed.

"What struck me the most was the pace, and the erratic feeling it had," she says. The camera's quick shifts and angles reminded her of bodies in motion. "I was like, 'What is this movie? This is so insane and marvelous and excessive,' " she says. "And excessive is I think how I approach dance. I enjoy the challenge of swiftness, and the pushing of the body. I love piling on a lot of vocabulary and seeing what comes out."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Robbie Fairchild in a still from In This Life, directed by Bat-Sheva Guez. Photo courtesy Michelle Tabnick PR

Back when Robbie Fairchild graced the cover of the May 2018 issue of Dance Magazine, he mentioned an idea for a short dance film he was toying around with. That idea has now come to fruition: In This Life, starring Fairchild and directed by dance filmmaker Bat-Sheva Guez, is being screened at this year's Dance on Camera Festival.

While the film itself covers heavy material—specifically, how we deal with grief and loss—the making of it was anything but: "It was really weird to have so much fun filming a piece about grief!" Fairchild laughs. We caught up with him, Guez and Christopher Wheeldon (one of In This Life's five choreographers) to find out what went into creating the 11-minute short film.

Keep reading... Show less
The Creative Process
Terry Notary in a movement capture suit during the filming of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Photo by Sigtor Kildal, Courtesy Notary

When Hollywood needs to build a fantasy world populated with extraordinary creatures, they call Terry Notary.

The former gymnast and circus performer got his start in film in 2000 when Ron Howard asked him to teach the actors how to move like Whos for How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Notary has since served as a movement choreographer, stunt coordinator and performer via motion capture technology for everything from the Planet of the Apes series to The Hobbit trilogy, Avatar, Avengers: Endgame and this summer's The Lion King.

Since opening the Industry Dance Academy with his wife, Rhonda, and partners Maia and Richard Suckle, Notary also offers movement workshops for actors in Los Angeles.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox