In 1932, German choreographer Kurt Jooss crafted a scathing invective of war in the language of ballet. “The Green Table” opens and closes on those distinguished men in suits who decide the fate of millions, and traces the path of destruction in the chapters between, the specter of death always hovering nearby. The Joffrey Ballet was the first American company to dance it in 1967 and presents it again this week as part of a thought-provoking program well-timed in an election year. I spoke with the Joffrey’s artistic director Ashley Wheater and Jeanette Vondersaar, repetiteur for “The Green Table,” in town to work with the company.
How does the aesthetic of The Green Table translate to your dancers today?
Wheater: The aesthetic is very specific and I feel the company has grown so much working in it. For this generation of dancers, I feel it’s very, very important for them to understand why this piece is so seminal. For some it’s much harder than others. Inside, they have to believe the movement; you have to be inside it one-hundred percent.
And why is “The Green Table” so seminal?
Wheater: It was so brilliantly conceived, there was nothing wasted in it. It’s still relevant as a political statement; we’re still fighting over exactly the same things today. Around the world there are still people who profiteer from war, there are still people who enjoy war and there are still people who are hurt, get left behind and depart. I think that it’s an ever-evolving story of our lives as humans. Our human landscape is a troubled one.
Vondersaar: It made an impact then and it makes an impact now because of what’s happening today and what will continue to happen in the future.
Jeanette, as someone who’s danced “The Green Table,” has your own relationship with it changed or evolved over time?
Vondersaar: Dancing in it was a huge help… that’s how I can understand the piece from within. Analyzing different companies and different dancers around the world has helped enrich my own understanding of the piece. I’m very honored to be able to do this, to follow in the tradition and carry on the legacy.
How does this piece fit into the program at large?
Wheater: For the generations coming to the ballet today, this program makes you realize how broad and deep the art form is. People should see this work. One thing Kurt Jooss insisted on was that it be the last piece on the program. Sometimes a program is very light and pretty and then ends with “The Green Table.” This program is thought-provoking from the get-go. Jiri Kylian’s “Forgotten Land” is about the water eroding and reforming the land as a metaphor for our lives. His inspiration was a painting by Edvard Munch of women on a shore. At the opening, we hear the sound of a stormy sea and we’re being pulled into the vortex being played out on stage. The dancers all have their backs to the audience, but every so often a woman will turn around. It says to me that we need to look back to move forward; I think history teaches us about the future and the mistakes we should try to avoid. And then James Kudelka’s “Pretty BALLET” starts with a ballerina held high, as if to say “we have to honor this art form otherwise we’ll lose it.” (Sharon Hoyer)
At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress, (312)386-8905. Wednesday, October 17-Sunday, October 28. $31-$152.