Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

five stars

No-one dancing on-stage was alive when The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. So their exuberance - and boy! do they radiate panache and youthful brio - isn’t tinged with personal nostalgia. Choreographer Mark Morris and composer/arranger Ethan Iverson were both astute little boys back then, and they do have memories of the music and the impact it made at the time. But they’re not inclined to be dotingly sentimental about the past either - and so Pepperland is a whole new adventure in dance that taps into the spirit of an optimistic age and then re-presents it for our (currently beleaguered) times. It is, in effect, a feel-good gift from the Mark Morris Dance Group - and the Edinburgh audience clearly cherished it as a welcome treat... not least because we hadn’t seen this previously frequent company anywhere in Scotland since 2009.

So, Pepperland:six Beatles tracks from the album, brilliantly re-framed by Iverson and interspersed with six of his own witty works - a wonderfully nuanced score which Morris’s choreography relishes with glee and perceptive humanity. His flair for making complexity look easy and natural is to the fore here. Popular dance styles - Charleston, Mashed Potato and more - fall into step with balletic battements, whirling jetes and high-flying lifts because, like the Beatles’ mosaic of music, such juxtapositions tease you into hearing and seeing things with keen, fresh eyes and ears. The whole hour of Pepperland passes in a kaleidoscope of zinging colour, the hot acid-brights of Elizabeth Kurtzman’s 60’s inspired costumes clashing like Bridget Riley’s op art stripes. Occasional vocals from Clinton Curtis - sung live alongside a remarkable sextet - take familiar songs in new directions but it’s the eerie, sometimes forlorn ‘voice’ of the theremin (as ‘magicked by Rob Schwimmer) that opens up strange, haunting depths in A Day in the Life, lends true mysticism to Within You Without You. Glorious, joyous, uplifting - but sadly run ended.