Mary Woodward Review

Pepperland, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

Pepperland 

*** 3 stars

Disappointingly underwhelming, given all the hype and rave reviews surrounding the only Scottish performances of the latest Mark Morris production.  Had I not just seen Scottish Ballet’s Spring! and Aljaz and Janette’s Remembering the Movies, I might have been more impressed, though I doubt it.

The concept was intriguing – a homage to and celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, first seen in 2017.  A live band and singer performed Ethan Iverson’s interesting arrangements of tracks from the album interspersed with some of his original compositions for this ballet.  Clinton Curtis did a magnificent job of interpreting, not trying to recreate, the Beatles’ lyrics, while soprano sax, piano, keyboard and percussion were augmented by Rob Schwimmer on the theremin, its weirdly swooping and gliding voice adding a very 70s sound to the mix.

The costumes were brightly coloured – red, yellow, pink, purple, blue and orange trousers, shirts and jackets or waistcoats, and mini-dresses with [inauthentic] kick-pleats in contrasting colours to allow the dancers freedom of movement.  There were a lot of dark sunglasses.  The back of the stage was surrounded by a small ‘wall’ of crumpled silver stuff, which was lit with varying colours to extremely good advantage.

Would that the dancing had lived up to the music!   It began well – a tightly-knit cluster of dancers slowly unwound into a single line; various famous people from the album cover [Einstein, Marilyn, Shirley Temple] were introduced and took their places and attitudes on the album cover; and then we launched into With a Little Help From My Friends, and the dancing began.  There was a lot of springing and leaping and carrying around of dancers in a high leaping pose: but after a while I began to notice the same moves repeated again and again throughout the evening, which became rather tedious.

When I’m 64 came with an extraordinary rhythmic dissonance between dancers and band which I found extremely uncomfortable while also being impressed at the dancers’ ability to dance against the rhythm they were hearing.  There was an interesting baroque extravaganza, complete with harpsichord sound from the keyboard accompanying an interesting mix of Charleston and hip-hop.  I really appreciated Clinton Curtis’ lyrical rendition of George Harrison’s contribution to the album, Within You Without You, the dancers exploring the contrast between the inner stillness of the meditator with the frantic, frenetic movements of modern life – but then boredom set in again with yet more of the same jerking, skipping and leaping: if you’ve seen any of the publicity photos, you’ve seen much of the ballet…

I have to say my companion and I were quite glad when the performance ended with the line of dancers spiralling back into their opening cluster [and the ballet’s only an hour long].  The rest of the audience thought it was absolutely brilliant and applauded loud and long.

Mark Morris Dance Company presents “Pepperland”, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Run Ended.

Review by Mary Woodward

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