Joffrey Looks Back

October 17, 2012
Chicago Tribune
Sid Smith


As Hubbard ventures into the brand new, the Joffrey Ballet looks back at one of Robert Joffrey's most distinguished accomplishments: his programming of "The Green Table" that brought new audiences and attention to Kurt Jooss' singular expressionistic 1932 masterpiece.

The work returns as part of the Joffrey's line-up Wednesday through Oct. 28 at the Auditorium Theatre.

Jooss' work embodies the horrors of warfare by means of stark allegorical characters--the Young Soldier, the Old Mother, the Profiteer and Death--assembled for a mid-section, framed by cartoon-like diplomats portrayed by masked, cartoon-like dancers huddling around a green table at the beginning and end of the piece. It's war and diplomacy in a never-ending cycle.

"It's truly timeless," Ashley Wheater, Joffrey artistic director, said. "Jooss was inspired by medieval dancers of death, and was working between two 20th-Century world wars, and yet we see his subject relevant today, in Syria. We're all susceptible to the horrors of war, and they're ongoing."

Jooss' expressionistic look is a distinctive factor, but so is the subtlety of his movement. "What makes it so difficult is that it's so simple," Jeannette Vondersaar, who's re-staging the work, said. "The opening of the hands, how you present yourself. With Jooss, just an extra little twist will make for another meaning."

"It's so specific in its shape, it's almost two-dimensional," Wheater said. Vondersaar noted, "The body has to be quiet in certain movements and dare to hold on until the last second."

In "Green Table," stylistic innovation meets gritty, uncompromising subject matter. "There are people who don't think of ballet as an art of political statement," Wheater said. "Anyone who's never seen this piece will be surprised at how much it reflects the world we live in."

The program includes Jiri Kylian's "Forgotten Land" and James Kudelka's invigorating "Pretty BALLET."

For Joffrey tickets: 800-982-2787 or