Pepperland, Mark Morris Dance, Wales Millennium Centre

April 13, 2019 by

If happiness has ever been distilled into a 70 minute show this would be it. It is pleasure from start to finish with a silly smile left on your face and, for we old timers who can remember the late 1960s,  even a bit of a nostalgic tear in the eye for simpler times. Yes, it is as much Austin Powers as the Beatles – but for a spirits-raising experience it is a delight.

With no interval, the gorgeous dancers perform with a smiling confidence and cool authority that few companies can match, an hour of entertaining, youthful and joyous dance.

The show was created to actually mark the  50th anniversary of  what remains one of the most iconic albums every created and rather than a cheesy tribute band with dance this is a combination of five songs from the Sgt Pepper album and one we are told was originally destined for it (Penny Lane) and new compositions examining the album’s musical influences, all moulded a theatrical experience.

So as well as what is familiar, we hear a brave foray into this legendary musical world which is at times far more jazzy feel from composer Ethan Iverson for the band as well as more obvious classical music allusions that can be found in the original, heavily studio produced,  album score.  Thus as well as  “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Within You Without You,” and “A Day in the Life” plus, of course, the title track which is reprised at the shows conclusion we have “Adagio,” “Allegro,” Scherzo,” etc. I rather think the audience would prefer a few more of the album’s classics and a little less new composition but, as stated, this not a tribute act.



The stage is clear apart from some what looks like crumbled  foil at the back which cleverly accentuates and plays with the  colours and lighting as out troupe rotates, unfurling from a tight group to reveal each our equally multi coloured costumed dancers.  They are introduced as some of those iconic characters from the cover of the album: Shirley Temple, Sonny Liston, Marilyn Monroe, Oscar Wilde, Laurel and Hardy, Albert Einstein with little gesture caricatures.

There is much group work, marching on and off the stage, leaping on the diagonal, repeated synchronised movement. Our dancers are in fabulously bright semi-sixities coloured outfits, perhaps a little more USA than say Carnaby Street in the Swinging Sixties, progress seamlessly through their steps in an imaginative and exuberant delight of styles from cancan, charleston, ballet, sixties groove, the occasional twist (although perhaps more like twerking), energetic bounds and lots of fun and little quirky surprises and jokes.

There are a few short sections where the Beatles and album inspired compositions seem a little too clever, a little too over thought, and we are happy when we get back to one of those catchy songs or psychedelic musings. The harmonies and vocal timbres of the fab four are replaced with baritone Clinton Curtis, just in sight, with the  band which include  soprano saxophone, trombone, percussion, keyboards and theremin. The latter new to me as well but the sound added to the druggy, otherworldliness that seeps through sever of the songs on the album.

Wrapping up the show it really was time to go. I am sure I am not the only audience member who went home and either dusted off their album, CD or used that crazy old internet to listen to those original songs one more time.  A joyful show and one heck of a trip, man.

Wales Millennium Centre, Until Saturday, April 13.

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