Fifty-two years ago, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play, and Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr’s resulting masterpiece—the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—continues to stand among the best known and most beloved grand statements of rock history. And it continues to inspire fresh art of all genres—including classical dance.
In celebration of the Beatles’s LP reaching its semi-centennial in 2017, the band’s hometown of Liverpool, England, commissioned acclaimed choreographer Mark Morris to build Pepperland, a feature-length dance production showcasing Sgt. Pepper’s songs. The performance travels to New York in early May for the first time, staging adjacent to Morris’s eponymous Dance Center at the Howard Gilman Opera House on the BAM campus in Fort Greene.
Morris is no stranger to reimagining classics with a twist. He’s likely best known for his antic transformation of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker into the ’70s mod fantasia The Hard Nut. For Pepperland, his mission statement was to “present a comment and rethinking of this profound cultural artifact with all of the imagination, surprise, humor, and ‘bizarrity’ intact.”
He’s found an excellent musical collaborator for that process in composer Ethan Iverson. Iverson was formerly the lead pianist for jazz band the Bad Plus, a trio that made hay early in their career with covers of rock singles. Iverson’s take on the Beatles’s music is predictably unpredictable, with a score that blends fresh arrangements of Sgt. Pepper with new pieces of his own design and incorporates jazz, world, and classical styles and instrumentation into the rock and pop masterpiece. Iverson tours with the work, playing live at every show.
The final component of Pepperland’s many parts is the show’s Op Art and Technicolor palette, constructed by set designer Johan Henckens and costume designer Elizabeth Kurtzman, both longtime Morris colleagues. The stage is presented minimally, with a mountain horizon of jagged, crumpled foil, while the dancers are clad in brightly colored and intensely stylish ’60s-inspired outfits. The final production promises even more than the sum of its many genius parts; audience members can expect a Sgt. Pepper that captures the risk, excitement, and kinetic joy that accompanied the original so very long ago.
BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue, Downtown Brooklyn
Wednesday, May 8–Saturday, May 11
Tickets start at $30