The Green Table is unique on our stages. In the late 20th century no one is dancing anything quite like it. This is not only because of its age–many ballets are older but look modern. Dancers almost unconsciously speak in the idiom of their time, steadily and imperceptibly polishing the patina off old artifacts to keep them fresh. I think even in well-preserved ballets there is much that is not prescribed, many expressive choices that aren't even acknowledged. When a dancer learns a role, he or she tries to accomodate to the steps, to own them. Most often, the steps end up accomodating to the dancer. They end up looking contemporary, whatever their origin.
The Green Table is an exception. Its production style and its dance idiom are attached to the late-expressionist period, that remote phase of cultural history between the great wars, so earnest in its innocence and anger, its fears and its ironies. Because of his particular method of fitting image to action, Kurt Jooss gave us a document that insists on telling us about its time, even as it reflects into our own.
The goal of expressionistic art, literature, and music was to use emotion and memory as a conduit to more universal feelings. Unlike the Romantics, to whom they were related, the expressionists did not view their art solely as a personal outcry. Expressionism nearly always had a spiritual component. This took the direction not of personal uplift or ecstasy, but of a surge toward the cosmos. Expressionists wanted to know and dramatize their connections with nature, with archeological time, with mystery and magic, and with other human beings living in their own time and place. Early expressionism unleashed a chaotic, anarchic freedom that often looked like madness. After the real trauma of World War I, artists began to draw back from those limitless, destabilized, early visions, into the safety of more rational, formal structures.