I saw the Mark Morris Dance Group doing *Pepperland* at BAM on 5/9/19. It’s a piece that Morris created in 2017 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of *Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.* He collaborated with Ethan Iverson on the music, new arrangements or variations on the Beatles’s music. Iverson and his trio, The Bad Plus, had done something similar with the score of *The Rite of Spring,* which Morris used for *Spring, Spring, Spring,* one of the most exciting pieces I’d seen from him.
Let me talk about the music first. Iverson did something surprising with the first song, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.” He kept the tempo and the rhythm of the lyrics but wrote a new tune. It set the tone for familiar vs. new for the whole show. “When I’m Sixty-Four” was daring and unsettling - - he had half the band playing the song straight and the other half playing something built on the same pulse, but with faster patterns on an unrelated sequence. It bothered me in a new and interesting way, I found myself looking forward to the moments when the faster elements would stop. The score had a large part for theremin, played beautifully by Rob Schwimmer.
The dancing was some of Morris’s best work. He gives us a fascinating balance of high-level dance, pure and extraordinary, paired with wonderful old-fashioned show biz entertainment. It’s like seeing Margot Fonteyn on *Hullabaloo.*
One slow movement had a tender, erotic pas de deux for two women. That was touching and something I hadn’t seen in a classical dance before.
Morris often uses humor in his work, and the funniest moment in the show was a movement that featured Nicole Sabella dancing alone, then being joined by two male dancers, then by two female dancers - - and so on and so on and so on, until the whole company was onstage. Sabella wandered around, exhausted and shell-shocked at the end of the dance. The other dancers went offstage, one by one, leaving just one tall male dancer and Sabella. She walked up to him, they sort of flirted with each other, and she bent over, put her shoulder against his waist, and hoisted him over her shoulder. She carried him offstage like that, to laughter and applause from the audience.
One of the treats of this piece was seeing members of the company I had seen in other MMDG pieces: I had seen Lauren Grant and Lesley Garrison in *The Hard Nut* a few times, and Dallas McMurray, who had impressed me in a solo dance with an Indian theme in 2016.