Sunday, 2 March 2014

Commemorating tragedy through dance

Commemorating tragedy through dance

As the world commemorates 1914 and the first World War, I think back to Jirí Kylián's modern ballet Soldiers' Mass (Field Mass), created in 1980 for the Netherlands Dance Theater and still painfully relevant. Described by a critic as "a poignant commentary on the devastation, absurdity and futility of war", it was in fact a deeply-felt protest. 

The music was composed in 1939 by Jirí's compatriot Bohuslav Martinu, to a text by Jirí Mucha, after Germany had invaded Czechoslovakia and World War ll was escalating rapidly. It was written in memory of a battalion of young Czechoslovak soldiers who were all killed the day after they went into battle in France in World War I. What makes this work even more personal is that in 1968 Jirí was exiled from his homeland Czechoslovakia, due to the communist invasion. 

As I made sketches during the creation of this beautiful tragic work, it made a terribly deep impression on me, as a pacifist. Twelve beautiful young men on stage were "standing in" for their fellow men from any country you care to mention, who were drafted or volunteered to unite in fear, senseless obedience and death, acting out what we call the "theatre of war".  A baritone and chorus sing the Mass and at a certain moment the dancers join in, singing a Mass for their own death. Crying out against the inhumanity of man. One long sinister dull red stripe on the horizon repeatedly emerges and disappears in the deep blue night. Click here for a montage from the ballet then press Play.
Gerald Tibbs, Leigh Matthews, Glen Eddy. Photography: Jorge Fatauros
(acknowledgement to Jirí Kylián and the Netherlands Dance Theater).

Soldiers' Mass l (Kylián/Martinu) watercolour and oil pastel, 50 x 70cm.

To occasionally give harsh accents (tracer bullets?), to this watercolour, I use oil pastels here and there. They resist or cut through the subtle effects of the watercolour. This device for intense colour provided a lot of expressive potential in most of my dance works in the nineteen-eighties. There are more to come.

Soldiers' Mass ll (Kylián/Martinu)