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Mark Morris' Pepperland

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
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Classic Beatles album inspires dance
The Beatles' iconic album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band forms the inspiration for Mark Morris' show Pepperland which is currently touring the UK and comes to Birmingham Hippodrome on March 26-27.

Pepperland was critically acclaimed when it premiered at the Sgt Pepper at 50 Festival in Liverpool two years ago. Working with composer Ethan Iverson, Morris created a piece with new arrangements of Beatles classics 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', 'With a Little Help From My Friends', 'A Day in the Life', 'When I'm Sixty-Four', 'Within You Without You' and 'Penny Lane' as well as original composition.

Mark Morris Pepperland
Mark Morris Pepperland


Morris was determined to give audiences something unexpected but he did admit to some nervousness about how the interpretation would be received in the Beatles' home city. "Every single person who lives in Greater Liverpool is related to or went to school with one of the Beatles so they are all experts in all things Beatles," he laughs. "I was 'I sure hope they like it – because if not I'll hear about it!'"

There was an element of personal memory for Morris though – as he actually saw the Beatles performing live. "It was the last tour before they stopped touring," he recalls. "I lived in Seattle and it was about 1966, I was like ten, and I saw them with my sisters and a bunch of their friends and it was a screaming nightmare! I knew their music from the radio and went with my sisters thinking it would be fun – but it wasn't! It was crazy. I think they stopped touring because nobody was listening to them, they were all too busy screaming!"

But in 1967 the Beatles released Sgt Pepper – an album which Morris found fascinating to take as inspiration. He says: "This album was never meant to be performed which is interesting. It was unperformable - and that was one of the reasons I chose to do it. I only work with live music, I wouldn't dream of working with recorded music, so it had to be a completely different take on the album. Sgnt Pepper was the first of its kind – it's fabulous and very varied with a short attention span. The Beatles were very young and they were thinking 'let's try out this and this'. It's a shopping trip of a composition – there's stuff from every aisle."

Morris, who launched Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980 and has created nearly 150 works for the company, ensures live music is at the heart of his work so it was imperative they didn't just reproduce the album. Instead, Pepperland features a chamber music ensemble of voice, theremin, soprano sax, trombone and two keyboards. And its sixties-influenced brightly coloured costumes created by Elizabeth Kurtzman ensure it's an eye-catching tribute to the period in which the Beatles became international pop idols.

Mark Morris Pepperland
Pepperland comes to Birmingham in March


While the Beatles' music is its springboard, Morris says audience members don't need to be Beatles fans to enjoy the show. "How someone feels personally about the Beatles' music might make a difference to the individual but my catchphrase is that 'this piece is for people who love or hate the Beatles' - I figure that covers a lot of people right there!" he says. "And then there's some others in-between who I hope will come and see it. And they'll be surprised by it. If you are going for a tribute show with a cover band playing Beatles hits that you can sing along with – that's not going to happen. You can do that afterwards in a bar! This show is fully rooted in the interesting and surprising and radical music of this particular album but also that period of popular music in general."

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Why? New take on Beatles classic
When: March 26-7
Phone: 0844 338 5000
Where: Birmingham Hippodrome
Cost: From £20
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