Everything isn’t always beautiful at the ballet. Amidst what many presume to be a world of pink fairies and Disney plot lines, lies a dichotomous realm of darkness and unhappy endings. Ballet can’t always be a majestic escape from reality, it also needs to be a reflection of life that can be cruel and shamelessly honest. Often times, it’s these poignant pieces that remind us how art can tug at the heartstrings of humanity and create change. Such is the timeless work of Kurt Jooss, The Green Table. Created in the mid 30s, The Green Table is an anti-war ballet that vividly paints the dark portrait of battle. The victors and victims of war are both at the mercy of the character Death, who hovers throughout the work with a powerful and truly haunting presence. The unfortunate relevancy of the piece can leave you speechless, the repetitive and captivating movements of Death appearing in your dreams days later. It moved me to tears both watching and performing it, and I was curious to see the response from various audiences. Though I first thought a 6th grade audience might be too young to witness the atrocities the piece embodies, I remembered that I was 12 when September 11th of 2001 happened. Just a few days into 7th grade, I began to understand the vicious results of a declaration of war. The brutal casualties and loss of innocence were on opposing sides alike. The 6th graders were silent from beginning to end watching us dance. During every school performance there’s the usual laughter at the sight of any man shirtless in tights, but as the soldiers marched heavily and wearily across the length of the stage, not a peep. The weight of the content was as heavy as the applause when the curtain fell after the final bow. Opening night was similar. The silence and heightened awareness that comes from being observed was even more noticeable, despite the somber lighting rendering the audience practically indiscernible. The quiet, the lengthened pause before the applause, were perhaps a result of shock, or confusion about what had just been witnessed. The final notes of the chilling and nostalgic melodies of F.A Cohen, played out on two pianos, lingered in the air.
I wonder if the audience members read the program notes, and were informed about the characters and various vignettes of destruction broken up by a series of black outs. I wonder if they don’t even bother, and instead sit down in their seats after intermission expecting to be wowed by the same gentle beauty of the ballet pieces prior. I wonder if they leave angry, knowing that their preconceived idea of “a beautiful evening at the ballet” has been tarnished by politics, brothels, wandering refugees and Death. I wonder if they leave thinking about Syria, or thinking about a group of clownish politicians deciding the fate of human lives, while their own lives remain relatively unchanged. I wonder if the echo of gunshots makes them rethink some of their aggressive Second Amendment bumper stickers. We need this art to make us think, and question some of our accepted realities. Art’s purpose is to move us, and sometimes even disturb us. Murmurs from the audience come back to the dancers, some people left clearly “disturbed and distressed….. why didn’t they warn us?” I am pleased to hear this in a way. How lucky are many of us that we only suffer vicariously through watching and performing the piece, what thousands suffer daily firsthand? Why should we warn them of the inhumanities and corruption of war that they can witness safely from a seat, while the world around us shakes from the pounding fists at The Green Table….
……my pointe exactly.