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  • INTERVIEW | Lesley Garrison on The Beatles’ Influence on Mark Morris’ ‘Pepperland’

INTERVIEW | Lesley Garrison on The Beatles’ Influence on Mark Morris’ ‘Pepperland’

Last year Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland, a dance production inspired by The Beatles’ iconic album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, premiered in Liverpool. The atmosphere was astounding and this year the company return to the UK for a brand new tour with Dance Consortium.

I spoke to dancer Lesley Garrison who described that premiere in Liverpool as “honestly one of the most memorable opening night experiences I’ve ever had.” The company were so nervous and excited about premiering a show inspired by something so close to Liverpool on their stage, but the reception they received was phenomenal.

“I remember us all being really nervous, and the dance actually starts with all of us embracing in a big hug. We were in the dark, hugging each other, anxious and excited about how it would all go down,” Lesley explained. “Then the lights went up and the audience started cheering as if it were an actual rock concert, and at that moment I remember we all had this big sigh of relief.”

Lesley grew up in Southern Illinois and started working with Mark Morris ten years ago. “I first fell in love with dance because of the physicality of it,” she said. “I loved the feeling of dancing together with other people.” She didn’t grow up in an arty family, but after attending her first dance class Lesley’s parents supported her to pursue a serious career in dance. Having worked with Mark since college, she has grown as a dancer through his company.

“Mark’s relationship to music is unlike any other choreographers in the world. He completely prioritises music with the dance which is what I fell in love with immediately,” Lesley explained. “Being able to dance to live music in every rehearsal and then every show is honestly one of the most rewarding things I could ever imagine. Mark’s brain is so fascinating and his imagination is so rich that working with him never has a dull moment and it is so interesting.

“Mark’s style of dance is really accessible, I think he makes work that people can watch and feel part of, which is a rare gift of his,” Lesley said. “I feel like when people watch his work they really feel like they could jump right in or be a part of it.”

Lesley loved working on Pepperland because of how influential The Beatles were. “I had a real Beatles phase and I think their music in incredible and so much fun,” she said. “Mark isn’t really into nostalgia, so I don’t think this piece is super nostalgic. I think the themes are familiar, the music is familiar but still so distorted. The arrangement by Ethan Iverson for seven musicians is six reinventions of the original songs and six original pieces. So it is a new take on the whole album and the whole Beatle mania experience I think.”

Featuring a score by long-time Morris collaborator Ethan Iverson, he leads a unique live music ensemble through innovative arrangements of iconic songs from the record including 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 mixed with imaginative original compositions.

“I think Pepperland is so spirited and playful but at the same time dark and mystical and lonely,” Lesley said. “I think it is just a super irresistible show that people will enjoy.”

Pepperland is currently touring the UK with Dance Consortium, tickets and information can be found on their website.

Photo credit // Gareth Jones

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