Thursday, December 3, 2009

Kurt Jooss: The Dancer and Choreographer

Kurt Jooss was born in Germany in 1901. Jooss began his dance training with Rudolf Laban in 1920 and quickly came to embody Laban's techniques. After training with Laban, Jooss was introduced to Sigurd Leeder, who was also trained in Laban Movement and was trained in Labanotation. Jooss trained with Leeder and eventually began collaborating and producing works together for Jooss’ company.

Rudolf Laban

Jooss was mostly influenced by Rudolf Laban’s technique. It was this influence that shaped his dancing and choreographic skills. With this being said, Jooss’ works tended to stray away from Laban’s ideas, seeing as that movement technique was where Jooss had the most experience. Jooss tended to work with “social identity” in movement instead of the expressionism of Laban’s Movement Technique.

Laban shown with an example of Labanotation

Jooss-Leeder Ballet Company or "Ballet Jooss"

"The Green Table"

"The Green Table" is known as the masterpiece of Kurt Jooss’ career. It is a timeless dance that continues to speak to audiences today, even though it was first choreographed in 1932. Many ballet companies have restaged "The Green Table," such as the Joffrey Ballet, as it is a piece for all generations. This work has been reviewed by many dance critics and is a never-ending source for research. "The Green Table" also serves as tangible evidence for the impact made on ballet and modern dance.

View the YouTube video of "The Green Table" here.

Social Events Inspiration for "The Green Table"

The Holocaust- 1933-1945
Nazi Germany- 1933-1945
WWII- 1939-1945
All of these events are monumental and very much a part of Kurt Jooss’ inspiration. With three events of this proportion, Jooss drew from these experiences when creating his dances. He was personally affected since he was a German himself and had to deal with these tragedies on a very personal level. His most recognized dance, The Green Table, deals with each of these events. The dance opens with politicians debating very heatedly. This would symbolize the Nazi rise in Germany as well as WWII. The dance then progresses with a heavy emphasis on Death, as it enters each scene and claims a life. This is representative of WWII and The Holocaust. Death comes swiftly and does not care which life he claims. Everyone is affected and Death continues on in a timely fashion.

"Death" and "The Soldier"

Form and Content of Jooss' Choreography

Kurt Jooss is best known for his masterpiece, The Green Table, which tells the story of Death. His work with emotional and expressionistic movement carried over into many of his ballets. The Encyclopedia Britannica states this about Jooss’ work, “…have contemporary themes or implications. Jooss retained basic ballet steps and positions in his choreography and made extensive use of expressive gesture but eliminated such displays of virtuosity as the use of points and multiple pirouettes.”
Jooss has greatly impacted the concert dance world. His use of movement to embody Death as well as other themes and ideas in a non-cliché way changed the way dancers approach choreography. Jooss broke ground when he presented work that affected people on a personal level. He was able to create pieces that remain timeless to this day by focusing on themes that are universal and ever present.

My Response to Jooss and "The Green Table"

Kurt Jooss’ choreography simply intrigues me. His work with The Green Table presented character development on stage in a way I had not seen. The characters described by John Rockwell in a New York Times review, “They're archetypes, but they ring true: the proud, deluded Standard Bearer, the eager Young Soldier, the Young Girl ultimately prostituted and killed, the Woman, an Old Soldier, an Old Mother and an oily Profiteer. It's a real medieval dance of death; some of Jooss' movements, mixing ballet and modern techniques, look as if they leapt straight from woodcuts.” Jooss’ movement quality and technique fused the ideas of ballet and modern, creating an intriguing and captivating dance. I appreciate his use of music, using it to enhance his choreography. In “Dance Chronicles,” Lara Maris writes (in regards to the use of music), “And it is specifically in relation to the musical conception of Form that I find Jooss’ works so richly creative and original.” His choreography and storytelling ability is simply incredible. He was able to create a whole other universe on the stage, captivating his viewers and stating a message all at the same time. Very few choreographers and dancers are able to achieve this idea. His movement and technique had a very balletic quality, but it was still modern in its presentation. The musicality and use of rhythmic movement also contributed to his work. His artistic mind was genius; I have enjoyed getting a glimpse of that genius.