Tuesday 8 November 2022

Soldiers' Mass


Commemorating tragedy through dance

Jiři Kylián's "Soldiers' Mass", created in 1980 for the Netherlands Dance Theater, was described by a dance critic as "a poignant commentary on the devastation, absurdity and futility of war". It was a deeply felt protest through dance, a protest that is now still painfully relevant today. 

Jiři's Czech compatriot Bohuslav Martinů composed his haunting cantata "Field Mass" in 1939 in memory of a battalion of young Czechoslovakian soldiers who were all killed the day after they were sent into battle.
Jiři choreographed twelve beautifully fit young men to "stand in" for their fellow men (from any country you care to mention), who were drafted to unite in blind obedience and senseless death. At one moment the dancers join the baritone and male chorus to sing a Mass (a prayer) for their own death, their voices and bodies crying out against the inhumanity of man. 

Jirí's masterful ballets inspired many paintings in the eighties, but as I made sketches during the creation of this tragically beautiful ballet, it left a deep impression on me, as a pacifist. On the backdrop, a sinister red stripe on the horizon of this battlefield repeatedly emerges and disappears into the dark blue of night.
                   Soldiers' Mass 1 (Kylián / Martinů) watercolour and oil pastel, 50 x 70cm. 1980
Gerald Tibbs, Leigh Matthews, Glen Eddy. Photo: Jorge Fatauros. 1980
(with acknowledgements to Jirí Kylián and the Netherlands Dance Theater).
                  Soldiers' Mass 2 (Kylián / Martinů) watercolour and oil pastel, 50 x 70cm. 1980

Here's a short clip from Jiři Kylián's Soldiers' Mass on YouTube, performed by the Czech National Ballet. You really should see it on an eighteen-metre stage.


  1. Beautiful work Norman. Great to have that body of work to reflect on. In any case I dearly hope all is well with you and you’re on your way to recovery. And by all means keep painting. There’s plenty of emotional material to work with these days. Take care dear Norman.

  2. wauw, wat een mooie referentie om mee te werken. ik heb het filmpje net gekeken en zie waarom het je inspireert. prachtig, en ook prachtig werk!