Lonita Cook Preview: Harriman-Jewell Series’ Pepperland

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Where will it go? That’s what you don’t know about Pepperland. Aaron Loux, a company member with the Mark Morris Dance Group and Dancer in Pink in Pepperland, recommends that you watch Harriman-Jewell’s upcoming program, created by Ethan Iverson from Mark Morris Dance Group, with an open mind.

Photo credit: Mat Hayward

Premiered in 2017 in Liverpool to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s, Pepperland is the result of fusing the talent of choreographer Mark Morris with the contributions of one of history’s most influential bands, The Beatles. Now Pepperland comes to Kansas City as part of the 55th season of the Harriman-Jewell Series.

Harriman-Jewell is famous for its discovery of talent on the verge of being famous. From Luciano Pavarotti to Itzhak Perlman, the crème-del-la-crème have appeared locally on the series before their breakthroughs. This February 8, more virtuosity arrives with the artists of Pepperland.

Photo credit: Gareth Jones

Loux travels to Kansas City for the third time with the show. “Our only hope is that people see it and like it and have a good time. It’s a joyous show, full of color, great music, humor, and some pathos. It goes through a full spectrum of human experience,” Loux says.

“The music is re-orchestrated. In a sense, it’s reimagined. There are six songs that you’ll recognize, though some will sound more or less familiar as they are played by the band, which is a cool mix of trombone, soprano sax, theremin, drums, piano, harpsichord, and singer. Then there’s the wonderful original music that Ethan composed that exists in its own world but will remind of Sgt. Pepper’s album.”

Loux, who started with the production as Morris’s assistant, says, “Mark is a singular genius. The way he envisions groups of people dancing and being together is inspiring. The way he uses music is also [inspiring]. He connects to audiences on a really deep level. When he takes something so well-known as the Sgt. Pepper’s album, he can use the music and bring out the narrative aspect, bring out references that will all be familiar and at the same time make something wholly new. It’s not just a sing-along show or a nostalgia trip. It’s a fresh experience drawing on this material we know and most of us love so well.”

Photo credit: Robbie Jack

Transformation also anchors the narrative of Pepperland. “There aren’t specific characters. There are 15 dancers and over the course of the show, we see each one emerge as an individual,” Loux says. To deepen the experience, turn to Iverson’s music. “It’s very much worth reading Ethan’s very short musical program notes either before or after the show. The sophistication that went into his treatment of all the songs, as well as his original music, is really brilliant.”

Loux is grateful to be coming to Kansas City with a show he’s been with since the beginning. “See what happens in front of you and let yourself be surprised and transported. That’s our job.”

The 55th season of Harriman-Jewell continues through May 2020. Visit hjseries.org for more info.

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Pepperland: Mark Morris Dance Group with live music
Muriel Kauffman Theatre | Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, 1601 Broadway Boulevard, Kansas City (map)