The central attraction of the celebrations which followed the opening of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral was a unique choreographed mass. New, serious and spectacular–involving a dance company of 40, an orchestra of 50, a choir of 80 and 8 solo singers–this mass was a major production by any theatre standards. It was, in fact, the first time the opening of a cathedral had been celebrated by a theatre production in the cathedral itself. Two years preparation and £50,000 from the Church, City and private donations went into this dramatic and religious spectacular, the centrepiece of which was a contemporary dance setting of two masses, one the 17th century Messa Concertata by Italian Francesco Cavalli, the other an electronic music mass by the French composer Pierre Henry.
For the performances the cathedral became a vast “theatre-in-the-round” with an area as big as that ever used for opera at Covent Garden. Not even in America had contemporary dance been presented on such a scale. The ‘Drama of the Mass’, as the complete programme was called, was in fact conceived as an expression in dance and mime of the great prayers of the mass, it reflected the form, geography and spirit of the new cathedral, and represented a revolution in British theatre. The dance was directed and choreographed by Bill Harpe, Artistic Director to the Cathedral Opening Celebrations.
The 40 dancers in the company came from many countries. Four of the dancers, two Canadian and two Jamaican, were from New York, others came from Australia, Rhodesia, South Africa, Yugoslavia, Costa Rica, Italy and India. Many of the dancers had trained and danced with such famous companies as the Royal Ballet, Ballet Rambert, the West Australian Ballet, the National Dance Theatre of Jamaica and the National Ballet of Rhodesia, the Jose Limon Company and the Anna Sokolov Company.
This breadth of experience and training indicated a liberal cross section of the dance world. The company was in fact the first to be formed in this country on the basis of a ballet and contemporary dance background, and it is hoped that in this, like the cathedral itself, it will prove a landmark and pointer to the future.