Building with Leaves Stripe
Huntingdon College: Political Science Program
LASM 102: Justice, Spring 2004.
The Green Table: a Danse Macabre
Prof. Diana Green
This page was last revised by Jeremy Lewis on Friday 1 Sep 2000; for the 2001 revision, see Outline.
  • Lecture Outline 2001
  • Dance as an art form
  • Eukinetics
  • Brief History
  • Video
  • Conclusion
  • HC Justice Syllabus
  • Section Syllabus
  • Section Timetable
  • Sample Questions
  • My Office Hours
  • PSC Courses
  • PSC Home Page
  • Dance as an art form

    • Before I jump into "The Green Table," let me set off with a brief discussion of dance in general and the style of Kurt Jooss in particular. Dance as a visual art, has elements of design that can be recognized. Shape, line, negative and positive space, depth and perspective are all elements of "space." Dance relates to music in that it exists over time, and even when there is no musical score, dance sets up its own rhythmic patterns. Dynamics in dance refers to the amount of energy used to create a certain movement. All of these elements, space, time and dynamics when put together well will elicit a kinesthetic response from the viewer. A simple example of kinesthetic response would be the tapping of a foot to the driving beat in a piece of music. But it can be more complex than just following a beat. When watching dance, particularly a live performance, a viewer will experience the firing of muscle groups parallel to those of the working dancer, even though the audience member never moves, and perhaps is consciously unaware that this response is taking place. In expressive dance, this unique feature of communication allows emotions to be translated physically. 

    Kurt Jooss and "eukinetics" (demonstration by dancers)

    Although dance may be abstract, existing purely for the sake of dance, today, we will be concerned with expressive dance.  Kurt Jooss has crafted his work in such a way that he communicates emotions to the viewer. You will find it very accessible to interpretation, whether or not you are familiar with this art form. The technique employs a system called "eukinetics," devised by his teacher, Rudolph von Laban. To illustrate a little of this technique I have asked a dancer  to help me with a demonstration. I will ask the dancer to turn profile for you so that we may discuss posture and "body language." 

    Laban's technique was based on the theory that all movement was a reaction to gravity. If we ask the dancer  to allow gravity to take over body parts in a normal stance you will notice that her spine becomes more curved, her head drops, her knees may bend slightly, her shoulders will round and her arms will fall in front of her body. If we wanted to attach emotional qualities to this, or in other words, try to read her body language, we might use words like introverted, somber, tired, etc. Now if I ask the dancer to resist the pull of gravity in her stance, to feel airy and light, as if she is floating, we will see an entirely different shape to her stance.  We might label it extroverted, happy, confident, energized, etc. Now since she is a dancer, I can ask her to take these two extremes and exaggerate them into movement, alternating from a giving in to gravity, to a resistance of gravity. She is free to find her own timing, and although she has not thought of any emotional statement to make, you may read something in to what she is doing. Many people have asked me what is "Modern dance" and although this is not a definition it is a property that will help you to recognize the forms. 

    Classical ballet was developed to create the illusion that gravity does not exist. It concerns itself with supernatural beings that exist only in the air. Ballet technique, as the dancer will show, wants to escape from the earth. It is a very extroverted art form. Modern dance on the other hand takes a humanistic approach, seeking to emphasize the effect of gravity on the dancer. Whether the dancer is succumbing to its effects or freeing herself from its pull, it is very evident that gravity is there. 

    Additional elements of eukinetics involve opposing forces. One is direct versus indirect focus. This can be illustrated by asking the dancer to simply walk with a strong direct focus on something she sees in this room. And again to a new place. This is movement with a direct focus. An indirect focus is illustrated by feeling as if you are being pulled in many directions at once, with no one direction actually becoming dominant. There can be very fast movement as if you are in a great hurry to get somewhere. And there is movement that meanders in a lazy fashion. There are movements that are very balanced and stable, and those that are off balance and even continue into a fall. And there is movement that is very bound and controlled with tension, and those that are very free flowing and released. This is a very quick overview of a very complicated technique, but I hope it will help you to understand my discussion of "The Green Table." 

    Brief History

    Kurt Jooss was born in Germany in 1901 and died also in Germany in 1979. The "Green Table" was created in 1932 for a competition in Paris. The work took first prize and has remained a signature piece for Jooss ever since. After 65 years, its theme is as timely as ever and the choreography as sophisticated as any contemporary work. Taking a medieval dance form, "danse macabre," or "dance of death" he has brought the skeletal figure into the 20th century. This dance shows death as the great equalizer. No one can escape him. It matters not who you are in life, whether you are a peasant or a king, a pauper or a wealthy merchant, when death arrives all are equal. There is an element that allows death to take each person according to how he has lived, and you will see this used in "The Green Table." "The Green Table" deals with the theme of war, and of "Death" as
    the only warrior who wins. 

    Video 

    The Green Table:

    (performed by the Joffrey Ballet, Music composed by Fritz Cohen)

    This production of "The Green Table" was performed by the Joffrey Ballet, and was staged by Anna Markard (Kurt Jooss's daughter). The composer is Fritz Cohen, a very close Jewish friend of Kurt Jooss, who was part of the reason for Jooss to
    relocate to England during the rise of Nazism in 1933. 

    The work opens on "The Gentlemen in Black," who maintain a diplomatic social decorum around a green conference table. The dancers are masked (due to the original cast having to use female dancers in these roles) which along with their gloves may symbolize their unwillingness to become physically committed to the war. The music is a tango which is an interesting choice for the composer. The movement is light and bound and is accented by emphatic literal gestures. Note that the two sides never actually make physical contact. At the end of the scene, "The Gentlemen" pull out their guns and prepare to have a shoot out.

    However, after second thoughts and polite bows, they shoot the guns into the air as if to say "first round." This scene is repeated at the end of the ballet beginning with more gun shots, which seems to me to say "end round one." 

    A transitional solo for "Death" follows. He dances a 3/4 sequence to 4/4 music which creates rhythmic tension. His movements are angular, bound, direct and have a relentless weight to them. The sounds he creates with his feet relate to the ticking of a clock, as if time is his to be manipulated at will. The solo ends as it begins which symbolizes an infinite cycle. 

    "The Farewells" is the section that introduces the characters and, like any good story, hints at their personalities and events to come. This entire scene is driven by "Death's" relentless "ticking" which remains even after the music shifts into soft lyricism. The "Standard Bearer" dressed in white, symbolizing purity of purpose, creates fluid circular movements with his flag. The whipping sound of the flag adds to the rich texture of the sound score and leaves us with a hint of cold windy open space. The "Young Soldiers" use uplifted, lifeless hypnotic repetitions. The Old Soldier is more punctuated in his walk, stopping in his actions showing a hesitancy to be driven by "Death." As the soldiers approach the gateway made for them by "Death" their bodies seem to lose all their strength. The "Woman" who is dressed in red, exits through the gate with the soldiers, indicating that she will take an active role in this war. The "Profiteer," who is the only other dancer, besides "The Gentlemen in Black" who wears gloves, greets "Death" in a friendly manner, but refuses to enter his gate. Both his actions and his gloves indicate his wish to never actively participate in the war, but only to profit by it. 

    Notice that the "Profiteer" claps along with "Death's" ticking, applauding its existence. His pose over the young girl in the end of this scene is a foreshadowing of things yet to come. 

    In "The Battle" you see an ABA form. There are pairs of soldiers fighting, a dance for all six in unison, and a return to the same thematic material in pairs. Again this may symbolize a cycle of never ending battles. The technique of men lifting and throwing men was well ahead of its time. The flag, which was originally white is now red with blood, which at first upsets the bearer, but eventually gives him a feeling of jubilation. 

    As the soldiers celebrate their victory over their first battle "Death" appears out of nowhere with proud strength to take them one by one. This is not a video trick. In a live performance the effect is the same.

    The lighting is such that it hides "Death" until the exact moment he is meant to appear. At the end of this scene the "Profiteer" literally robs the corpses, using delicate slimy movements. He walks or prances on his toes as if not wanting to get his feet wet on the bloody ground. The reason for his turn and run is that he encounters "Death" which you cannot see on this tape. 

    "The Refugees" shows a group of women sent into an unknown world. The shape of their grouping and the wave like movements may symbolize being sent out in a boat in a vast unknown sea. There is a sense of weight pulling on them which they
    control with sustained and sometimes accented movements. The Old Woman walks on her toes and scurries around in fear, almost as if she has a glimpse into a world beyond and is no longer completely attached to the earth. Although she is genuinely
    afraid, she welcomes death and allows him to comfort her with his gentle strength. After the "Old Woman's" death, the "Young Girl" who was caring for her is left unprotected, and once again the "Profiteer" is in pursuit, tying this section to future sections. 

    "The Partisan" shows us how "The Woman" plays an active role in events. Strong and determined, she is part of an underground movement and believes in her cause strongly enough to consider killing another human being. Her red dress may symbolize her passion and the white scarf the pure ideal with which she must kill. This solo is built around opposites to illustrate the complexity of the decision she must make. Movement alternates between bound and free, stable and off balance, fast and slow, sustained and accented. After the firing squad takes her life, "Death" looks down at her as if to say "So, was it worth it?" 

    "The Brothel" finally delivers the "Young Girl" into the hands of "The Profiteer" who has set up his whore house for the entertainment of the soldiers. The "Young Girl's" hair is down for the first time, emphasizing her free flowing out of control movements. She is manipulated by the strong controlled movements of the others as they toss her from one to the next. In the end, you almost feel that she is going to be saved by a soldier who truly loves her and will care for her. As "Death" approaches, you think you know that he has come for her soldier. But instead he has come for her. What is her cause of death? One can only assume by the way "Death" takes her, that her sexual relations in the Brothel have been her demise. 

    "The Aftermath" uses the exact device employed in the "danse macabre" of the middle ages. The figure of "Death" leads all his victims in a procession, each clothed in his or her way of life. The Standard Bearer makes a desperate attempt to remain noble but is engulfed by "Death" and all his victims. At the end of "The Aftermath, "Death" repeats his solo and "The Profiteer" is finally caught up in his relentless rhythms. "Death" barely notices "The Profiteer" as he simply sweeps him away. "Death" seems to take as little regard for "The Profiteer" as "The Profiteer" took for him. 

    "The Gentlemen in Black" return to their table. The repetition here is obvious, as is the statement it makes. A form of justice, or should we say injustice, is inevitable as is communicated in Kurt Jooss's words which you will find printed at the end of the
    tape: 

    I am firmly convinced that art should never be political, that art should not dream of altering peoples convictions... I don't think any war will be shorter or avoided by sending audiences into "The Green Table."            -- Kurt Jooss, 1979 
    Questions