Kurt Jooss: A Profile

 

Kurt Jooss: A Profile

The colorful life and distinctive dance style of the seminal choreographer Kurt Jooss (1901-'79) are explored in a film that contains a wealth of archive material, including home-movie footage.

 

 

ALMOST EIGHTY YEARS after the premiere of The Green Table, Kurt Jooss’ astounding, scathingly political critique of war, the death figure seems a tad silly, with his garish, ghoulish painted face.

But this figure, despite his central role, is a bit of a straw man anyway, isn’t he? The real baddies are the elegantly dressed older gentlemen whirling about that table, their tux tails spinning, their hideous masks grinning as they decide the fates of men, resplendent in the knowledge of their own safety.

These men still give audiences the heebie jeebies. The world he addressed (a Europe reeling from war and about to be shattered by another, which the German choreographer and his company would endure in England, after narrowly escaping the Third Reich) has long since been largely relegated to textbooks. Yet the dramatic language of his work, far from seeming dated, feels all-too rooted in the violent, cynical realities of the 21st Century.

Aging this well is no easy thing for a dance-theater work, especially one so charged as The Green Table, to accomplish.  The choreographer offers a glimpse into his methodology, and perhaps to why his creation has survived these many years: “The task of the arts is to confess inner things, to bring out emotions and this and that. But not, not to bring solutions.”

From Jooss' powerful 1932 work, The Green Table

 

Dance, with its sensual, often dream-like logic, is a fine chamber in which to confess inner things.  It can also, of course, be a fragile container, and this charming, low-key documentary, with its wealth of old photographs, posters and grainy film footage, underlines both the enduring quality of performance, and how quickly it can slip through our fingers.

One of its most poignant moments comes when the great choreographer Pina Bausch, one of Jooss’ students, tells the camera, “There’s no doubt that I am continuing a tradition, and I have great feelings of kinship and gratitude.”

Bausch died recently, and unexpectedly, of cancer. We have yet to see who will continue her tradition, the one she learned in part from Jooss—and what of her savage, monumental works will survive, alongside her teacher’s, to astound us for decades to come.
 

--Claudia Larocco

 

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