Forgotten Land was created for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1981 by Jir.í Kylián, the ground- breaking Czech choreographer who has had an immense influence over the choreography of many generations. Set to the music of English composer Benjamin Britten (Sinfonia da Requiem), with its images of the sea engulfing the land, this ballet is also inspired by a painting, by the Norwegian expressionist Edvard Munch, of women on a beach staring at the sea. Forgotten Land explores memories, events, and people that over time are lost or forgotten and how people sometimes vainly try to recover them, or a sense of them, in order to regain their former power and value.
The work begins with a dozen dancers slowly walking upstage, backs to the audience, gazing at the violent sea as depicted in John Macfarlane’s painterly scenic design. The dancers arch their backs and dance expressively, reflecting both the music and the haunting painting that influenced the work. Mr. Kylián’s movements suggest the rising waves of a grey sea, the ebb and flow of life, and themes of metamorphosis central to human existence.
In this performance you will experience more than just the “choreographer’s voice” as the sounds of the sea that open the piece were created using the sounds of Mr. Kylián’s breath.
Over the course of the years, by uniquely blending inspiration from many sources, Mr. Kylián has created a very personal style that defies academic categorization. His work is deeply rooted in musical comprehension, but there is also something in his work that deeply penetrates the mystery of the human being, revealing hidden traces in his dances.
Robert Joffrey was one of the first directors to bring the work of Mr. Kylián to the United States. Forgotten Land debuted with The Joffrey Ballet in October 1985 at New York City Center with current Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater featured in the cast. Benjamin Britten is celebrating his centenary this year and so The Joffrey Ballet is pleased to celebrate that event with these performances.
Choreographer James Kudelka is one ofNorth America’s most respected choreographers. His pieces are a fascinating mix of traditional ballet and modern dance that as Robert Joffrey said, “doesn’t look like anyone else.”
referring an audience to experience his work as it unfolds, Mr. Kudelka is not one to talk in detail about his ballets. However, there is no doubt when you see a work of his that you are experiencing many different things at once. His deep knowledge of the score is immediately apparent in the way that he sets the movements to the music and he displays a great mastery of the use of space, both in the general sweep of his work and the interpersonal relations of the dancers. There are allusions to our humanity, to our art form, and a view of our future. The more you see a Kudelka piece the more the layers reveal themselves and the greater the reward for the viewer.
Of The Joffrey Ballet’s premiere performance of Pretty BALLET Sid Smith wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “Pretty BALLET is thrilling, ingeniously designed, devilishly rebellious and brash in its showmanship. Kudelka, whose work we’ve seen too rarely, seizes on classical form and Bohuslav Martinuº ’s powerful second symphony as a means to devise his own dark, formal wonderland.”
Discussing Mr. Kudelka’s choreographic language, Lewis Segal of the Los Angeles Times wrote that “Kudelka represents a maverick in our midst: someone who approaches dance as an expressive art.” Judith Green in the San Jose Mercury observed, “Not only is his choice of music beautiful, but he has the uncanny knack for finding movement to match it.”
The Green Table
The Green Table (subtitled A Dance of Death in Eight Scenes) is a truly innovative work; the depth and universality of its content give it a timeless and meaningful quality. This masterpiece of German choreographer Kurt Jooss (1901–1979), is one of those rare dance works that is as impactful today as it was at its premiere in 1932.
In the first scene, a group of diplomats (The Gentlemen in Black ) is gathered around a large table covered with a green cloth. The diplomats wear masks. Formal courtesy competes with threatening gestures until finally war is declared. Death appears, beginning his hypnotic dance. The scenario unfolds into a series of vivid tableaux, from the stirring call to arms to eventual devastation on the battlefield. The final scene returns to the conference table, where the diplomats resume going through the same charades of negotiation.
Death is the thread connecting the main episodes. He becomes everyone’s partner, effectively seducing them into his dance on the same terms by which they lived their lives. He is the great equalizer, no one can escape him. It does not matter who you are in life, when death arrives all are equal. Although Death takes his victims in different ways—he can be forceful, crushing or compassionate— everyone’s destiny is inevitable.
At the time of the creation of The Green Table, one world war was recently over and another was looming on the horizon. However, the piece is not symbolic of any specific war, but a set of circumstances and people that produce the same result, no matter where or when they exist. Mr. Jooss was fascinated by the imagery of the medieval Totentanz, or Dance of Death. The inspiration for the dance, (originally conceived as a solo), was provided by a sequence of medieval pictures in the Lubeck Cathedral, the “Lubecker Totentanz,” that portray people from all walks of life dancing with Death. He created the role of Death (a dominant figure, stamping out the irresistible rhythm of the ballet) for himself and danced it at the premiere.
The choreography provides a superb example of the kind of ‘’expressive dance’’ that was favored by Mr. Jooss. He bravely broke away from the norms of dance at the time and developed a “no frills” dance vocabulary that seeks to clearly capture the essence of each movement or pose, and its inner motivation His training as Rudolf Laban’s student and assistant laid the foundation for his explorations of expression and technique. Mr. Jooss integrated Mr. Laban’s findings and his free-style approach to dancing with the discipline of classical ballet training. The result was a new technique that emphasizes the use of the body as an expressive whole. Mr. Jooss called the resulting style, “Essentialism.”
The Green Table uses elements of classical ballet, (such as turn-out, demi-pointe, extensions, arabesques, etc.) but there is no pointe work or displays of virtuosity or artificial grace. Every step is used for its expressive value, and the meaning it conveys and is often reinforced by the use of stretched palms, fists, reaching and other positions of the hands. Death moves with sharp, direct, strong, and angular movements, cutting through space, advancing with clockwork regularity. In contrast the Profiteer has a swift and agile way of moving, his back usually curved, his cunning nature further accentuated by the indirectness of his focus and his multidirectional spatial patterns.
The success of the work is not only due to the choreography, but of the importance of all the elements and how they come together. Every detail is of great importance but nothing is overdone. Mr. Jooss worked closely with the designer, Hein Heckroth, and the composer, Frederick Cohen, to build the piece. The dramatic music is clearly etched by being played on two pianos. The seriousness of the diplomats’ discussions are ironically offset by the tango music that accompanies this scene. Except for an occasional prop, the stage is bare. The costumes and props also have symbolic qualities: a flag for the standard bearer (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.), white at first it is soon stained with the blood of war; a red dress for the partisan (which may symbolize her passion); the skeleton-like costume of Death; and the green covered table itself.
Despite all that has been written about this ballet’s impact and its place in history the choreographer made the following statement: “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.”