‘Pepperland’

Dance review: It was 51 years ago today

Mark Morris comes to town with 'Pepperland,' his take on 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

By HEATHER WISNER

I was working at SF Weekly in the mid-’90s when the Mark Morris Dance Group brought The Hard Nut, its take on The Nutcracker, to UC Berkeley. When the review came in from a freelance writer, the copy editor called me, the resident dance nerd, over to her desk. “The whole thing is about one part of the dance,” she said, pointing at her monitor. “Doesn’t that seem a little excessive?” I skimmed the piece, which focused on the Waltz of the Snowflakes. I hesitated, then said, “It does seem like a lot.”

But once I saw The Hard Nut, I got it. Mark Morris has many talents, not the least of which is forcing you to reconsider what you thought you knew—especially where music is concerned. The Hard Nut’s snow scene is a perfect microcosmic example: the waltz-y, pristine prettiness of the original becomes a joyful, snow-flinging swirl of movement in the remake. It might not be what you expected, but it feels right.

Mark Morris pays homage to The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” in “Pepperland.”/Photo by Gareth Jones

And so it is with Pepperland, the company’s witty and affectionate tribute to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which White Bird, a co-commissioner of the piece, brought to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall February 21. Last year, the city of Liverpool commissioned Morris to create the work as part of the city’s 50th anniversary celebration of the album. But instead of using its music outright, Morris turned to former Bad Plus composer/pianist Ethan Iverson for a new score.

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