It is coming to the Segerstrom Center Of the Arts this weekend, June 14th and 15th, 2019. Choreographed and Directed by Mark Morris, who's repertoire of creative work uses and melds music genres in innovative ways, with choreography that is unbridled enthusiasm mixed with stylish technique that immerses itself into the score and lyrics completely. It is his unique style, and the collaboration with Ethan Iverson, the Musical Director and Reconstructor of sorts, that has crafted this wondrous and captivating romp through the '60s and The Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album, with a new twist and dimension to the score and brilliant choreographic concepts and costuming.
To really immerse yourself into Sgt. Pepper it's good to have a little knowledge about the album cover, which was no doubt painstakingly created with layers upon layers of meaning. It is a work of art in itself. Those characters/icons come to life in one of the pieces, albeit in different forms, through costuming and movements. I asked two of the dancers in the company, Mica Bernas and Noah Vinson, what character each portrayed from the album cover. Their answers were unexpected. Mica portrays Billy Shears, The fictional leader of the Band. "There are a lot of stories about the origin of Billy Shears but nothing is for certain. So I guess my approach is of that; uncertainty. " and Noah is Sonny Liston, throwing punches and giving attitude, definitely going against type-casting, which gives you an idea of how flipped, quirky and original this tribute to The Beatles and the '60s is.
I posed some other questions to them both about their experiences dancing with MMDG and performing in the production "Pepperland." I was curious about what in their training might have helped prepare them for working with Mark Morris.
Mica Bernas, a company member for three years began her career in her native Philippines with Ballet Philippines as a Soloist. Her training was well-rounded, and in addition she was involved with a global project involving many Asian countries and cultures that enriched her training through their traditional, classical and folk dances and music. Her exposure to so many types of music and dance helped give her the adaptability to capture Mark's distinct style, which she describes as an intimate relationship with the music.
Noah Vinson is a long-time member of the company. He enthusiastically began young, training in all types of dance along with gymnastics, diving, piano, etc., and acquired a BA in dance from Columbia College. Not long after that achievement he moved to New York, auditioned and "got the job" as an apprentice, becoming a company member in 2004. That was his road to being capable of interpreting Mark's work, understanding the concept and knowing how to implement it.
Mica: This job is one of those dream jobs that most dancers hope for. Mark is truly gifted in what he does. His relationship to a particular piece of music really drives the choreography. He can highlight detailed movement qualities without it being too complicated for the audience to access. Mark also has this way of subtle storytelling wherein, without knowing it you're sobbing as you watch his work. There are no big intros, just the facts, just the dance, but all together, they work. Aside from the privilege of working with Mark, we also get to work year round, traveling the world and performing in the most amazing venues.
Noah loves the diversity in the choreography and varied types of music Mark chooses. Every piece is completely different than any of the others he has done. Getting to rehearse and perform with live musicians is another plus for him and keeps things spontaneous feeling, especially during performances. He also had the opportunity to assist Mark Morris in the creation of his most recent work for Houston Ballet, "The Letter V;" an invaluable experience, for sure.
Can you explain the rehearsal process? Is the choreography put in after the musical score is written or simultaneously? What input do the dancers have?
They both missed Beatlemania by several decades, and weren't all that familiar with The Beatles growing up, or before starting on this project, but through rehearsals, mentioned Noah, where they first began dancing to the original Beatles arrangements, working on ideas, sort of sketching things out; and then once Ethan had completed his own score (a very different musical approach than the Fab Four) and they then rehearsed to that, they became immersed in the music and lyrics from the album and now feel on stage that they are in their own psychedelic, mod world that Mark created, enhanced by performing with the composer himself and his musicians, live.
Mica: There were some sections that took more time than others. Creating "When I'm 64" went by so fast and as a new dancer with the company, I didn't know what to make of it. It was amazing but I was also always on my toes in case it wasn't done. We had a bass phrase and played around with different groups and canons. Then I remember Mark just saying, "There, done." There are some sections where we have some liberties within a framework that Mark has designed. An example of that is the section called Wilbur Scoville or what we call the Blues. Musically of course, we had our set measure to dance to but some improvisation was allowed, influenced by '60s blues dancing.
I play the narrator of the song and as the lead dancer, get to take everyone along on the songs' psychedelic journey with me.
Mica: I really like the section called "Scherzo" because of it's quick piano and harpsichord call and response. It's a section that feels like the "Pepperland" social dance. I also like how "A Day in the Life" seems to just breathe more as the stories are told. You get to see people be people and we get to be people, not dancers.
Noah: Mark and Ethan both have their own unique style so it's not really a tribute to the Beatles per se but a whole new approach to their work. It is witty, musical, joyous and sad, more like an amalgam of the whole album; a roller coaster ride through it.
Mica: In some ways the show is a nod to the past, the vibrant psychedelic '60s, and the crazed Beatlemania. More than that though, the show is energetic, poignant, quirky, and funny. It's unlike any other show, it's "Pepperland."
Noah told me about the wild, overwhelming success the show had in the UK, where the Beatles are rightly revered, and how people everywhere would stop them to tell them about their experiences and recollections of the "Sgt. Pepper's" album. The rest of their touring has been much the same, so much so, that their original contract of three years has just recently been extended two more years!
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By all accounts, this Magical Tour through "Pepperland" will surely be a nostalgic, enlightening, eye-popping, energy-driven, colorfully psychedelic treat for all, in a whole new way never before experienced. You don't want to miss this opportunity to reminisce and be deliciously entertained.
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