Kurt Jooss’ “The Green Table” and Alvin Ailey’s “The Revelations” are both over half a century old and still remains to this day one of the most timeless masterpieces of dance in history. Their elaborate combinational display of music, dance, and rhythm was able to tell us a story without the use of any words. This collaborative combination was able to create a powerful and insightful perspective on what they were trying to articulate. The revelations captured the pain, determination, and valour of the African Americans at the time.
Ailey used a very religious, divine, and prayerful mood and point of view throughout the whole dance. While The Green Table aimed at showing people how futile war is and how it affects people and society. Jooss used the satirical and cynical perspective, as well as the method of expressionism. In the intro scene; the first part “Pilgrim of Sorrow”, which is “I have been buked”; you can feel the troubled mood of the scene by the slow, sombre, sad, and music and dance movements. The tight brown costumes give it an air of sadness and hardship.
You feel the atmosphere full of pain of the African Americans when they are all standing together and dancing in unison. The troubled mood can be sensed when you see all of the dancers with their heads down, and powerfully reaching upward with their arms and hands fully extended toward the sky. Their physical movements are more rigid and sharp, showing some uneasiness and complication to the mood. To me, I feel their pain and helplessness because it seems as if they are reaching toward the heavens and the gods seeking help and deliverance from this cruel situation they are in.
The second part “Deliver Daniel” the music sounds almost biblical. I looked up the lyrics of the song and it aided me in understanding the scene enormously. The song speaks of how not everyone is treated equally, even under the eyes of the lord. “Didn’t my lord deliver Daniel…. Then why not a every man? ” “He delivered Daniel from the lion’s den, Jonah from the belly of the whale. The Hebrew children from the fiery furnace, then why not for every man? ” The blacks are feeling singled out, and asking the lord why isn’t he delivering them from this position. It’s a very emotional song and it really touched home with me.
The third part of the first section is “Fix me Jesus”. This part was a duet between a man and a woman. I feel a very close bond between the two because of the complimenting physical behaviour, as well as many synchronized dance steps. It consists of many warm and trusting touches, grabs, and holding positions where the man is balancing the woman in a very trusting position as well as leaning on one another. I feel a strong sense of trust and faith between the two dancers, certain chemistry with a very strong trust and bond with one another. They support each other physically.
I get the sense that they are a couple going through a tough time and they are supporting and helping one another. Or continuing the religious theme of Ailey, it might be a woman and a priest or pastor, but I’m not too sure. The second section is “Take Me to the Water” and is broken into two parts; “Wade in the Water” and “I Wanna Be Ready”. The first part is a dramatic change in mood. The music is more upbeat and unlike the previous section, the dancers are wearing white, possibly symbolizing hope and a change of feeling or situation. Carrying on with the religious theme, this scene portrays a ritualistic baptism of some sort.
Also, unlike the previous section, where the dance movements were slow and gloomy; in this scene the movements are more positive and buoyant in nature. Props such as a big white umbrella, a white cloth and two large sticks are also incorporated. The more cheerful and upbeat dance movements, synchrony and symmetry as well as powerful religious music in the background give it a feeling of a ceremony or ritual of sorts. Toward the end of “wade in the water”, two men are holding a large white cloth and in between two women and a man are bowing down to the cloth and then looking and reaching up with their arms toward the sky.
This symbolizes their prayer and a more perseverant attitude. A bluish white silky cloth in the background waves elegantly in the background of the three dancers symbolizing a river. The woman with the large umbrella is seemingly baptizing a young couple in the river. At first I didn’t understand this, to wade means to bathe, and bathing in water can only mean being baptized because of all the Christian references that Ailey incorporates in this dance. I’m also Jewish so I didn’t quite understand it right off the bat, but I put aside my Jewish beliefs and paid more attention to the overarching religious and Christian themes.
The young couple dance in a very smooth, upbeat, and fluid manner which signifies to me that perhaps things are looking up and they have more faith and belief that they will be delivered from this place. Part two of this section is a solo and is called “I Wanna Be Ready”. It begins with a black man in white clothes lying on the floor moving in a smooth and yet sharp manner which is kind of confusing at first. The music is very blues-like and gloomy. This scene gave me trouble as well until I carefully listened to the lyrics of the song. “I wanna be ready to put on my long white robe… lord I wanna be ready. “… cuz if my lord should call on me, lord I wouldn’t be ready to die. ”
The soloist dances in a very erratic fashion, mixing slow and smooth movements with more sharp and quick movements which to me signify a feeling of uneasiness and confusion in the man. The man also moves in awkward and “different” ways furthering the complexity and conflict within him. His facial expressions are very sad and full of sorrow. In the dance you can see the man sitting on the floor and keep on trying to slowly rise to his feet, only to be dropped back down to the floor showing the hardship of a man’s acceptance of death.
The scene ends with him standing and sharply falling to the floor symbolizing his death. This, to me was, probably the most emotional scene because it symbolized the man’s sincere and earnest coming of terms with death for if the lord “should call on him”. The final section of Revelations is “Move, Members, Move! ” This final and last section is filled with joyful praise and celebration. It suggest and exuberant church service with members greeting each other, commenting on the sermon and joining together in a stomping, enthusiastic and upbeat celebration.
This section finally portrays the “deliverance”. The scene opens with three men coming into the scene confused as to where they are, and they break out into a highly upbeat dance. One after another, each man take turns dancing their “freedom dance” through a large variety of spins, leaps, pirouettes, and I even observed some break-dancing. All three dance in a very liberating and celebratory fashion. It is easy to see and feel the happiness and freedom displayed in the men’s body language as well as the upbeat music. Part two is the “yellow” section.
And in it you see quite a few women in yellow apparel which closely resemble the formal clothing worn to church. The stools the women are holding coupled with their church clothing suggest they are in church and in a community of believers (gospel). The way the women look at each other, nod, and wave their fans to one another signifies to me that they are communicating and socializing. When they all get together, the way they position their bodies one can notice how the dancers lean toward each other, which to me suggests conversation and interaction with one another.
The synchronous movement tells me that they are a part of a community. Once again this scene breathes an air of freedom and liberation and deliverance. The hardships and tribulations they faced seem to be all but gone; everything seems to point in that direction. The incredibly upbeat and cheerful music, the incredibly joyous, free flowing, and proud body language gives absolutely no hint at anything but happiness and jubilation! “Rockin’ My Soul” only further strengthens the glimpse and glimmer of light in all the hardships which I believe is “the community” and “hope of salvation”.
My thoughts about “Revelations” were very progressive. Upon the first go around I thought it was a good dance but I wasn’t content with my understanding and not confident in writing and analysing it entirely. But after understanding the time period, Alvin Ailey’s life and biography, and the song and its lyrics, I was absolutely hooked! I loved the dance so much I saw it a total of four times, and I kept observing novel and interesting little caveats that I so easily overlooked. It is without a doubt one of the best dances I have ever seen in my life. It was very powerful, touching, and an emotional rollercoaster.
Several times I caught myself in empathy with the people. And what is most amazing to me was that I was able to feel and understand everything and yet it was all done through the medium of dance and music! The Green Table was attempting to portray the many problems and social issues of its era. Issues such as the ineffectiveness of peace negotiations, political corruption, and policies strongly surrounding the military. Jooss’ creative style incorporated cunning irony, his courageous and daring language (non-verbal), and his use of caricatures (using imitations so distorted and inferior as to be almost ludicrous).
He also used a contrast of music contradictory to the mood portrayed. The dance takes place in between the two world wars and is a satirical observation and point of view of the uselessness and negativity of war and all the troubles that arise from it. The dance opens with “The Gentlemen in Black,” who maintain a diplomatic social etiquette around a green conference table. The dancers are masked and wear these funny looking, old-style wigs on their heads. Along with their gloves may symbolize their unwillingness to become physically committed to the war.
The music is a tango which is an interesting choice but plays well with the satirical and cynical theme of Jooss. I didn’t understand at first why Jooss chose to do this; but later understood this is an example of expressionism, which is a somewhat satirical point of view in where something is presented in a subjective perspective, highly exaggerating and distorting it for emotional effect. Their movement is light and bound. Upon watching for the third time, I’ve noticed that the two sides never actually make physical contact.
At the end of the scene, “The Gentlemen” pull out their guns and prepare to have a shootout. I interpreted this as symbolizing the declaration of war among each other. The next scene is the introduction of “Death” in his own solo dance. Death is portrayed as a skeleton moving in a very sharp, forceful, aggressive, and robot-like manner. The music is a very menacing and cynical which match the movements of death perfectly. It also has an air uneasy tension. Death looks very merciless, and moves in a very aggressive fashion.
The low lighting, cynical music, and scary looking death creates an atmosphere of chaos and frenzy symbolizing the power and danger of death. The sound death creates with his feet, to me symbolized the ticking of a clock; kind of like “your time will come, tick tock”. I also observed that death’s solo ends just as it begins creating somewhat a feeling of eerie omnipresence (if that is the word) and power. The next six scenes portray different aspect of wartime. In “The Farewells” comes the introduction of the characters, all the while death is in the background relentlessly ticking away.
Standard Bearer is dressed in white, symbolizing purity of purpose; he creates fluid circular movements with his flag. The whipping sound of the flag adds a little extra to the musical score. The Young Soldiers are very lifeless, almost in trance and hypnotic repetition. The Old Soldier is more deliberate and slower in his walk, stopping in his actions showing a hesitancy to be driven by “Death. ” As the soldiers approach the gateway made for them by “Death” their bodies seem to lose all their strength. The Woman, who is dressed in red, exits through the gate with the soldiers.
The Profiteer, who, I noticed is the only other dancer, besides The Gentlemen in Black who wears gloves, greets “Death” in a friendly manner, but refuses to enter his gate. To me, his actions, his sly and smooth movements, and his gloves symbolize that he wishes to never actively participate in the war, but only to profit by it. This scene signifies the separation of loved ones. The two following scenes; “The Battle” and “The Partisan”, signify the war itself. There are pairs of soldiers fighting, where all six soldiers dance in unison.
The flag, which was originally white, now seems to be soaked in blood, which at first upsets the bearer, but eventually gives him a feeling of triumph. As the soldiers celebrate their victory over their first battle Death appears out of nowhere with proud strength to take them one by one. The lighting was done so perfectly that death was hidden until he was meant to appear. At the end of this scene the Profiteer literally robs the corpses, using delicate slimy movements. He walks or prances on his toes as if not wanting to get his feet wet on the bloody ground or something.
The Refugees” shows a group of women in an unknown place. The music is very depressing and slow. The women move in a very somber and miserable fashion. The Old Woman walks on her toes and scurries around in fear. Although she is genuinely afraid, she welcomes death and allows him to comfort her with his gentle strength. After the Old Woman’s death, the Young Girl who I figured was either related or was taking care of the old woman is now left alone and unprotected. And once again the Profiteer is in pursuit and up to no good. “The Partisan” shows us how The Woman plays an active role in events.
Strong and determined, she is part of an underground movement and believes in her cause strongly enough to consider killing another human being. After the firing squad takes her life, the scene ends with Death looks down at her as if to say “So, was it worth it? ” “The Brothel” eventually delivers the Young Girl into the hands of The Profiteer who has set up his whore house for the entertainment of the soldiers. I notice that the Young Girl’s hair is down for the first time, which to me symbolizes her free flowing and out of control behavior and movements.
She is manipulated by the strong controlled movements of the others as they toss her from one to the next. In the end, you almost feel that she is going to be saved by a soldier who truly loves her and will care for her but that feeling is short lived. Death approaches and you would think he has come for the soldier, but instead he has come for her. What is her cause of death I wonder? One can only assume by the way Death takes her and touches, that her sexual relations in the Brothel has led to her demise. The next scene is “Aftermath”.
Death leads all his victims in a march, each clothed in his or her way of life. The Standard Bearer makes a desperate attempt to remain noble but is engulfed by Death and all his victims. At the end of “The Aftermath, Death repeats his solo and The Profiteer is finally caught up in his own demise. Death barely notices The Profiteer as he simply sweeps him away. Death seems to take as little regard for The Profiteer as The Profiteer took for him. The scene returns to The Gentlemen in Black and the rectangular green table.
They almost completely repeat the first scene as the last scene which to me symbolizes how they are back at it, and are completely oblivious to all the terror and horror they have caused by declaring war in the first place. The repetition signifies that they are bound to repeat the same mistake! I strongly believe that both Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations” and Kurt Jooss’ “The Green Table” absolutely belong in every classroom of every grade in every school in the United States. Before I even begin to argue why it’s such a necessity, I wish to talk about my personal experience of both of these timeless dances and dance in general.
I was never into dance and I was even sceptical about signing up for this dance class in the first place. It was this sceptical ignorance is what kept me from dance my whole life, I would like to say. Growing up, I never had a class about dance, so why would I want to pursuit such a thing in the first place? In high school there were a few dance classes, but it was mostly all girls, which only added more reason to not join. It wasn’t masculine enough and I didn’t know any guy that was in a dance class anyway.
It seems that a lack of open-mindedness, social pressures, and no mandatory dance classes in school is what holds dance back, if I may. It seems that a lot of people not necessarily don’t like dance, but know nothing about it. It isn’t given an equal chance, like math and literature. In fact there are plenty of errors that we are only know learning about school curriculums; the way they teach the types of classes, and the measurement of intelligence. I was definitely on that side of the fence and being a psychology major, I am now learning more and more about people, what they need, what is effective, and what can be done different.
There are many reasons that I believe that both Revelations and The Green Table and dance in general has to be included in every student’s education. First and foremost, dance is movement; and movement is a way of life. We learn about the world around us by moving in and about it; through space and time, and we discover properties of the world in relation to ourselves. Far too often it seems that people are living upstairs in their own head and fail to accommodate their physical beings. It’s as if they assume it’s not as significant or something.
At first watching the dances was very difficult to understand what the choreographers’ were attempting to articulate, but watching it several more times and reading background information about Ailey and Jooss I began to have lots of “aha” moments when watching them for the third time. It’s simply amazing how powerful messages can be conveyed without using any words. I learned this method is called labanotation (language for interpreting, describing, visualizing and notating all ways of human movement… ll without saying a single word) and expressionism (present the subject in a subjective perspective, strongly distorting it for emotional effect, to evoke moods and ideas… all without saying a word as well. ) Kinaesthetic intelligence is one of the most prevalent intelligence that we use day to day; along with our visual and auditory intelligences (as Howard Gardener proposes). This is something that is definitely overlooked in the methods of teaching in this day and age.
Dancing and understanding dance elps sharpen and refine your kinaesthetic intelligence which in turn in dramatically increases your capacity and rate of learning by a staggering percentile. Also while I was learning more of the background of dance and movement I have discovered that the majority of communication is body language, which consists of 55%; 35% your tonality, and the rest being the words that you use. It amazes me how such an invaluable tool and skill set is so often overlooked. Imagine the effect of all of these studies in a student’s personal development as a member of society and their culture if it was incorporated into every student’s education.