So, finally the great tour of The Cardinals is over. The team have dispersed in various directions, the set is in a shipping container wending its way home and a friend on Facebook asks “is that the last ever performance?” The answer is “who knows – we hope not” because now days we regularly get the chance to see shows we had once imagined where gone, never to be seen again.
Earlier this month Warwick Arts Centre hosted Ultima Vez who were restaging What the Body Does Not Remember their first ever show. Last year Sadlers Wells hosted the Tanztheater Wuppertal who were restaging 1980 an early piece choreographed by Pina Bauch; a piece I was taught about at university as a piece of theatre history. Earlier I didn’t get my act together sufficiently to get to The Barbican to see Robert Wilson / Philip Glass’s breakthrough show – Einstein on the Beach, which is insane given that without having seen it I had always imagined it would be my favourite ever show. The concept of ‘repertoire’ has been expanding.
When first performed all three of these productions were avant-garde works from avant-guarde artists. I imagine that they were made with no thought that they would enter a repertoire and be perform again many years later transformed into ‘classics’.
Yet, stepping aside from art and the fascination of seeing pieces that were ‘of their time’ in another time, having a repertoire makes good business sense. Research, development and launching a new ‘product’ is the most expensive part of its life cycle – by comparison re-touring can be much more efficient and if the show has made a big reputation already or if the artist has subsequently gained kudos then why not ‘re-release’ old work.
I was thinking about repertoire from the other angle a few weeks ago having seen Michael Wolters and Alexandra Taylor’s brilliant opera Ava’s Wedding. This piece was written especially for the vast hoards so singing students at Birmingham Conservertoire. It’s difficult to find operas for this group to perform as there are many more women on the course than men and ideally everyone would have a similar amount to sing. So Wolters and Taylor have written a truly ensemble, tragic opera of manners with an overwhelming number of female parts.
Ava is a nice girl of middle class English parents and she shares the same fatal flaw as all of those around her – she is far too polite. At her 21st birthday party she is too polite to decline a marriage proposal from a boyfriend who is only proposing because he feels he aught to. The tragedy is that everyone’s agony is tied up in not speaking their mind but as an audience we know that speaking their mind would also release someone else from their agony. Mostly we learn this because a chorus sing the unspoken thoughts of characters at key moments.
It’s a great opera, rattles along for over two hours, the music playfully quotes a history of English music, the staging is neat, the costumes satisfyingly bad taste ’80s. It is funny and sad and often very well performed. I really enjoyed it but when I asked Michael if it would be performed again he said “probably not”. Well, hang on in there Michael, don’t ever underestimate the power of the repertoire.