Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band head to Yorkshire

Phoenix Dance Theatre's The Rite of Spring will be at Cast Doncaster. (Picture: Tristram Kenton).
Phoenix Dance Theatre's The Rite of Spring will be at Cast Doncaster. (Picture: Tristram Kenton).
Have your say

Two musical compositions, not a great deal alike, but both providing inspiration for two world class dance shows heading to our region.

Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring are the two pieces of music in question.

Pepperland is coming to Bradford's Alhambra Theatre next week. (Mat Hayward photos).

Pepperland is coming to Bradford's Alhambra Theatre next week. (Mat Hayward photos).

The dance companies inspired by the music are both internationally touring companies: one emanating from this region and one travelling here from New York.

Stravinsky’s ground-breaking The Rite of Spring was a shocking piece of music to audiences when it was first performed. Written for the Paris season of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company, it debuted on May 29, 1913 and reviews called the reaction from the audience as a ‘near riot’. People were horrified at the avant garde nature of the music and of the choreography from Nijinsky.

This time around the music is causing less controversy, but it has caused something of a sensation with internationally-acclaimed Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Saintus making his UK debut and working with the highly regarded Phoenix Dance Theatre.

The Leeds-based dance company, which continues to go from strength to strength, brought in the Haitian choreographer to work with the company as it collaborated with Opera North for a powerful piece of theatre. The piece premiered in February at Leeds Grand Theatre and the inspirational leader of Phoenix, Sharon Watson, said at the time that working with Opera North for the first time was ‘a really exciting collaboration’.

Having won audiences over at the Leeds theatre, Phoenix has created a double bill of The Rite of Spring, pairing it with a new piece from choreographer Amaury Lebrun called Left Unseen.

The double bill opens next week on a national tour, stopping off on Yorkshire turf when it comes to Doncaster Cast on April 9.

The second piece of internationally touring dance coming to our region in the coming weeks is the Mark Morris Dance Company’s Pepperland.

The only Yorkshire performance of the piece comes to Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre on April 2 and 3. The tribute to the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ ground-breaking 1967 Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is coming to Bradford thanks to the theatre’s membership of the Dance Consortium, a collection of theatres across the country which pool resources to bring the best dance from around the world to regional theatres. Mark Morris, who the New York Times described as ‘the most successful and influential choreographer alive and indisputably the most musical’, has created over 150 works in an almost four decade long career.

Sgt Pepper is packed with Beatles’ hits and is frequently at the top of lists of the greatest albums of all time; it was described by Rolling Stone magazine as “the most important rock and roll album ever made.” The man charged with composing the music for the piece, inspired by The Beatles, is Ethan Iverson.

Iverson intersperses his own arrangements of With a Little Help from My Friends, A Day in the Life, When I’m Sixty-Four, Within You Without You, Penny Lane and the title track with six original Pepper-inspired pieces.

He says: “When Mark Morris called me to say he’d been asked to create a piece on Sgt Pepper and would I like to compose the music, I realised what a daunting project we were taking on. It could be awful, but Mark’s such a genius that I thought I could do it with him.

“The album is a favourite record of mine from high school. They made a masterpiece, really. It has that kind of weight, and each new generation discovers it with awe.

“I was Mark Morris’s musical director for five years around the turn of the century and played hundreds of performances with him. I quit that wonderful job to become a jazz pianist with my own band, The Bad Plus, but kept in touch with Mark.”

Together the composer and his band have taken on some hefty music, reconstructing David Bowie, Nirvana, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd over the years.

“I know Mark liked our version of Blondie’s Heart of Glass. I had experience of looking at material in a way that’s intriguing and trying to do something new with it, which is what I’ve done with Sgt Pepper.”

Iverson is at pains to point out that people shouldn’t expect a Beatles’ concert. “Their music is the fundamental backbone of the piece, but the album now is essentially a piece of folk music. We take liberties with it like we would with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, pieces we know so well but can change.”

World-class dance productions

Yorkshire is a creator and receiver of some truly world-class dance – and these two productions underline the region’s supremacy in the art form.

The Rite of Spring and Left Unseen. Phoenix Dance, in association with Opera North, bring to life the work of Stravinsky and a new piece by Amaury Lebrun. Cast, Doncaster, April 9. For tickets call the box office on 01302 303959 or to book online visit

Pepperland, presented by Mark Morris Dance Group. Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, April 2 and 3. For tickets call the box office on 01274 432000 or to book online visit