With Kurt Jooss (1901–1979), expressionist dance avoided both abstraction and influences from modernist art yet explored themes of social alienation and anxiety. Indeed, Jooss acquired an exaggerated reputation as a satiric commentator on (or caricaturist of) social role-playing because he respected traditional narrative models for framing bodily movement. His modernism therefore depended on his situating expressionistically distorted images of contemporary social types within a premodern narrative structure.
Jooss was born on a farm near Stuttgart but never showed any serious interest in farming; even so, a vaguely agrarian-guildish (rather than cultic) notion of community shaped his aesthetic and perception of social reality. At first he considered a career as an artistic photographer, then (1919) focused on singing and drama at the Stuttgart Academy of Music. But "something was missing everywhere, and I no longer believed in my dream of the arts" (Markard 29). He therefore resolved to return to the family farm. However, as soon as he made the vow he encountered Laban in Stuttgart, and although Jooss was, as he put it, "heavy, phlegmatic, and totally without muscles," his "whole being gradually became a part of this art," to the extent that "my body changed." On the farm again, he could think only of dance, and he experienced the most intense suffering of his entire life. Shortly after his father died, Jooss could no longer live apart from dance, so in 1922 he rejoined Laban in Stuttgart and followed him to Mannheim, then Hamburg, where he met Sigurd Leeder, who had collaborated with Jutta von Collande. Early in 1924, Jooss and Leeder formed the only male pair dance couple in German dance, but it was not until 1926–1927 that they actually devised the program "Two Male Dancers," comprising solos and four duets, all apparently grotesque. The composer Marcel Lorber, who worked so closely with Bodenwieser in Vienna, accompanied them on the piano. But the tour collapsed when Jooss injured his knee.
By this time, however, he had other tasks to fulfill. His close connection to Laban recommended him to the innovative opera director Hanns Niedecken-Gebhard in Münster, where in 1924 Jooss had choreographed
his first notable ensemble piece, the Tels-Wellesz Persisches Ballett , with Yvonne Georgi and Jens Keith. Jooss and Leeder worked with a small corps of six men and ten women on modernistic operatic and dance works by Hindemith, Toch, and Wellesz; Jooss supplemented these pieces with large and small scenarios of his own composition, primarily of a grotesque and satirical nature. After observing ballet schools in Paris and Vienna, Jooss and Leeder began to incorporate ballet technique into their pedagogy and productions, although Jooss continued to regard ballet as "dead from within" (35). In 1927 the city of Essen invited Jooss and Rudolf Schulz-Dornberg to establish a subsidized arts school, the Folkwangschule, with Jooss as director of a dance studio aiming to integrate dance and theatre—"Tanztheater." At Essen he gathered about him a team of collaborators whose talents were manifest at Münster: Leeder, the scenic designer Hein Heckroth (1901–1970), the composer Fritz Cohen (1904–1967), and the Estonian dancer Aino Simola (1901–1971), whom Jooss married in 1929. Jooss further consolidated dance and theatre by working with the conductor Toscanini and Laban on the Paris version of the Tannhäuser Bacchanale (1930) and by accepting appointment as ballet director of the Essen Municipal Opera, for which the Folkwang dance company performed all ballets. Then he appeared as a dancer-actor in stage productions of Kaiser's Europa (1931) and Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (1931), in which he played Puck. With The Green Table (1932), Jooss produced his most popular international work, winning first prize and 25,000 francs at the Concours de Choreographie in Paris.
At this point Jooss detached his dance company from the subsidized theatre and formed the Ballets Jooss, which toured several Rhineland cities, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, Paris, London. Nazi press and propaganda, however, expressed virulent hostility toward Jooss, primarily because he collaborated with Jews, but because his company enjoyed no subsidies it was not until September 1933 that the Gestapo moved to arrest him—in vain, for Jooss and his entire company of twenty-three persons had sneaked across the Dutch border. In 1934, Lord Elmhirst invited Jooss and his company to make their headquarters in Dartington Hall, Devon, England, where the company remained until 1942, realizing "Jooss's early dream of an academy of the arts in a rural setting" (Coton 56). But financial pressures compelled the company to tour almost continuously from 1934 to 1940 throughout Europe, South America, the United States, Canada, England, and Ireland. Probably no other dance company in the world reached such a large international audience, although the repertoire consisted primarily of works created before 1933. For reasons of national security, the company moved to Cambridge in 1942, and Jooss served in the British Army. The Ballets Jooss returned to Europe and America in 1946 as part of the British Army entertainment services, and Jooss himself became a British citizen in
1947. In 1949 he accepted another invitation from Essen to direct the dance activities of the Folkwangschule; by 1953, however, the city claimed it could not longer fund the company. After a stint at the Düsseldorf Opera (1954– 1956), he devoted himself entirely to teaching until the 1960s, when state subsidies allowed for the establishment of the Folkwangballet. By this time Jooss enjoyed the reputation of a revered master teacher who synthesized Ausdruckstanz and ballet through the concept of "dance theatre." His most famous student was Pina Bausch (b. 1940), probably the greatest dance artist to emerge from Germany since the Weimar years. When he retired from the Folkwangschule, in 1968, Jooss continued to lecture and hold master classes internationally; his daughter, Anna Markard (b. 1931), supervised the elaborate documentation of his legacy. At the end of his career he seemed to have no enemies and no serious challenges to his perspective; he was always a "sweet" man, gentle, patient, persistent, friendly, and sensible, free of fanaticism and abundantly blessed with quiet, healthy optimism.
As an artist, Jooss was skeptical of "barbaric Ausdruckstanz " and believed by 1924 that "the creative adventures of expressionism lie behind us" (Markard 15). He therefore followed a vision of "New Dance" in which a Platonic sense of order was no longer incompatible with modern bodily expressivity (Coton 30–31). At the heart of Jooss's aesthetic was "a creative compromise between free personal expression and formal compliance with objective, intellectual laws," "a compromise in the noblest sense, which one can likewise designate as axial to the world of art" (Markard 17). For Jooss, compromise meant a synthesis of dance and theatre achieved through a synthesis of Ausdruckstanz and ballet. But Jooss's concept of ballet was somewhat ambiguous, for by it he did not mean an elaborately rigid system for automating bodily movement within an extravagantly artificial performance space. He loved the idea of laws governing movement, but he wanted a "gestural training based on natural laws of mimicry and expression," so that movement always appeared "new" and "natural" at every moment of performance (Coton 72).
In practice, this notion of compromise supposed that expressive power derived from the observation and perfection of socially coded bodily movements in daily and ceremonial life. In the rather abstract Larven (1925) and Groteske (1925), Jooss used masks and eccentric costume details to render bizarrely comic the idealizing gestures and poses of ballet—with, for example, a female dancer performing on pointe pirouettes in a specially constructed dress that made her look like a dwarf, with the other four dancers amplifying the perception of a community unified only through a grotesquely extravagant respect for conventionalized signification of heroism and grace. In these cases, costume largely designated movement as grotesque. But in Kaschemme (1926) and Tangoballade (1926), costume
scarcely departed from what the dancers might actually wear on the street; instead, movements from popular social dances became powerfully exaggerated, with female couples dancing passionately, eyes closed, as in Kaschemme , or in a kind of somnambulatory line, as in Tangoballade . In Pavanne (1929), with its lavish sixteenth-century costumes, Jooss showed that exaggerations of conventionalized decor and movement could operate in a tragic as well as grotesque mood (although the intense sadness of Ravel's music probably dominates perception of any movement it accompanies to such an extent that I think it impossible for anyone to produce a grotesque-comic dance using the piece).
Jooss sought a compromise between abstraction and "naturalness," and this he achieved above all by emphasizing the restoration of conventional narrative strategies as the chief source of value and motivation for dance. As early as 1924 he was willing to assert that "the dance pantomime is the actual theatre form of dance" ("Der grüne Tisch," 22). The exaggerated perfection of socially coded movements transformed the body into a recognizable social type (or caricature) whose actions produced an easily readable story. It was not pantomime so much as the "natural" consequence of exaggerating the social codes signifying various emotions and motives, regardless of their historical context. Jooss did not confine himself to a contemporary image of the world. The Prodigal Son (1931), for example, with music by Prokofiev and choreography by Balanchine (originally done for Diaghilev in 1929), presented a vaguely biblical parable about a young man whose acquisition of glory and power leads to his corruption and then his betrayal by his followers. A Mysterious Stranger, who earlier had tried to dissuade the young man from his dream of power, finds refuge for him among a community of harlots, then denounces him to an underworld mob. Alone and penniless, the man journeys wearily back to the home of his father but meets the Mysterious Stranger along the way. This time he repudiates his enigmatic "friend." Here, as in subsequent works, Jooss disclosed an acutely ambivalent attitude toward the pursuit of power and leadership, but he had difficulty constructing an image of community that effectively justified or neutralized his ambivalence.
This ambivalence toward the power and ambition of leaders reached maximum intensity in the great international hit The Green Table (1932, music: Cohen), an expressionist satire on political power-brokering inspired, according to Jooss, by the medieval dance of death. The dance drama contained eight scenes showing the triumph of Death over all who followed their leaders to war. The first depicted ten diplomats in formal attire and distorted masks "negotiating" around a green table: "They smile, persuade, flatter, argue, then rage at one another. They threaten and gesticulate wildly with harsh, puppet-like movements which stress the unreality of the emotions to which they pretend. They go through a formula of discussion; they
understand, they apologize, they resume their chattering until their mutual hatred impels to a mutual rage. At this point they leave the table, pacing up and down, back and forth, with the agitation of bantam cocks or the wariness of foxes" (Coton 49). This description indicates how Jooss's idea of building dances around socially coded movements actually entailed an almost cartoonish exaggeration of conventional (or "formal") significations to suggest the demonic insincerity of gestural signs, an observation reinforced by archival film footage of the dance and by videotape documentation of the Joffrey Ballet's 1976 reconstruction. Subsequent scenes depicted the call to arms, the farewell, military training, the battle, a brothel, "the dark roads where wander the homeless and stricken refugees," and the return of the ridiculous diplomats. The two major figures were the War Profiteer and Death, who form a macabre partnership that concludes with a chess game won by Death, who gathers up all the pieces along with the Profiteer. Originally played by Jooss himself, Death appeared in all the scenes, "sapping desire, corrupting ability, as he hovers in the background or stalks steadily, mechanically and undeviatingly through scenes of battle, flight, or surrender" (49). Death was played by a nearly naked dancer who had a skeleton painted onto his body and wore a sort of centurion hat, boots, and a black pelvis/rib cage. Though the diplomats looked contemporary, the figures in all the other scenes projected vaguely archaic and definitely premodern images—except for the Profiteer, who wore a bowler and a T-shirt and resembled more a habitué of a boxing gym than a figure from a corporate boardroom. For Jooss, the desire for power entailed the heightened expression of insincerity, which led to catastrophic misunderstandings and conflicts (war). Death, the ultimate power figure, controlled the destinies of societies; a leader was someone whose body moved in accordance with the grand ambition of Death to take everyone with him. This attitude was quite at odds with that of Wigman in the spectacular Totenmal (1930), in which the (female) leader established her command over groups (movement choirs) through movements signifying a heroic confrontation with Death rather than a foolish blindness to it.
With The Big City (1932), Jooss moved toward a more cinematic narrative style that dispensed altogether with the figure of the leader and the theme of ambition as the measure of identity. Here he presented a complex image of a modern society defined and unified above all through sexual desire: "We see typists and clerks, the newsboy and prostitutes, factory girls and working lads; elegant and would-be-elegant men of leisure, a few tramps and fanatics, a sprinkling of touts, beggars and street vendors walk, loiter, amble or trot briskly along. It is the evening cross-section of Main Street anywhere, made up almost entirely of those whose lives are too formless, or whose pockets are too light, to enjoy solitude or leisure" (Coton 40). In the midst of this crowded scene appear a Young Girl and a Young Worker,
lovers, who dance romantically and innocently until the entrance of the Libertine, who casts his suave spell upon the Young Girl and entices her away, leaving the Young Worker impotently enraged. The ensuing scene depicted, with much use of magnified shadows, the Libertine bestowing an expensive gift (a party dress) on the Young Girl in her tenement neighborhood. When the Young Girl departs momentarily to change into the dress, the street urchins display a peculiar capacity to resist the seductive charm of the Libertine and perceive his insincerity. The Young Girl returns and dances with the Libertine into the night while the children and mothers point accusatorially at the couple. The final scene takes place in a dance hall, "where stupid, doll-like youths and girls stamp and contort through graceless motions of a debased kind of ballroom dance" (41). The Girl and the Libertine appear and dance orgiastically. Then the music becomes melancholy, and the ballroom figures metamorphose into proletarian couples, who perform a kind of tragic waltz of futility. The Young Worker enters and dances with different partners, seeking the Young Girl, but in the end he dances all alone; dancers from both classes become mere shadows, while "the maddening stupid rhythm goes on and on, marked by the even stamp and shuffle of the dancing automatons" (44).
This rather rural vision of big city life was, according to Coton, "built on all variations of human locomotion—prancing, shuffling, ambling, gliding, hesitant, bold, furtive—and a style of freely rhythmic and unstressed dance which show[ed] more elasticity but less elevation, little line but plenty of roundness, in comparison with classical Ballet" (44). Moreover, Jooss used "long cross-stage lines and full-stage circles," with "small circles opposed to, or built towards, large circular movements," to suggest "characters moving inside space, rather than against a background" (45). Thus, although Jooss offered a conventionally negative representation of female class mobility through erotic desireability, the movement of an entire social class was signified by intricate circular patterns—especially of multiple couples and trios—rather than by the synchronicity of feeling and action that conventionally signified "class" in theatrical performance. This work indicated that the use of socially coded movements to shape dance was synonymous with the representation of conditions of loneliness, alienation, futility, and disillusionment, an attitude cultivated with even greater intensity in the postmodern dance aesthetic of Pina Bausch.
With A Ball in Old Vienna (1932, music: Lanner), Jooss satirized the conventions of the courtly waltz in a nostalgic atmosphere of the 1840s. By exaggerating its movements, he implied that the waltz disguised the desire to assert power over an entire social class: one asserted power over the body of one's partner in a context elaborately contrived to produce this disguise—the ball. For Jooss, dance itself implied an intensely physical "fascination in the actions and reactions of those people, at any social level, who
are able to exercise practically unlimited power over others" (53). In Ballade (1935, music: Colman) he returned to the tragic, medieval mood of Pavanne , full of somberly ceremonial movement, but this time he pitted two couples—King and Queen, Marquis and Marquise—against each other, with a virtually static Queen provoked to a display of "awful power" by a trivial indiscretion of the King and the Marquise. The Mirror (1936, music: Cohen), however, told a contemporary story of three men—the Man of Leisure, the Middle-class Man, and the Laborer—comrades during the war, who return to their homes to find expanding misery, poverty, and unemployment. The unemployed Laborer abandons his wife to a life of prostitution; the Middle-class Man attempts to form a political movement uniting bourgeois and proletarian interests, but the workers repudiate him. An encounter with the wife-whore awakens in the Middle-class Man the authority he needs to lead a full-scale revolution against the capitalists. But total chaos results, and the three men, united by pervasive social suffering, find themselves comrades again. Chronica (1939, music: Goldschmidt) followed an even more complicated plot, set in the Italian Renaissance, about a stranger who gains the confidence of influential citizens to become leader of a city. However, when he resorts to despotic measures to restore social order, he unwittingly provokes conspiracies, treasons, revolution, madness, and the sacrifice of his life.
In these later works of the 1930s, Jooss apparently wished to test the capacity of dance to construct unprecedentedly complex narratives and psychological states. The narratives became more convoluted, but the movements of the dancers did not: his repertoire of movements included hardly anything beyond the social codes he had already explored in pre-1933 works. It was thus evident that narrative complexity had little to do with choreographic complexity, semantic density, or expressive power, an indication that Jooss's belief in conventional narrative as the force synthesizing dance and theatre was perhaps excessively optimistic. Pandora (1944, music: Gerhard) nevertheless constructed another elaborate allegory, in three acts, in which the beautiful but evil Pandora corrupts the People with her mysterious box. Pandora releases all sorts of monsters on the world and persuades the masses to sacrifice their children to the Machine God; a lone Young Man remains ever-faithful to the virtuous but remote Psyche. Only in a context of complete destruction and desolation is it possible for the Young Man to assert power over the People and banish Pandora. But this sort of morality drama, saturated with intricate plot twists, could not disguise a fundamentally ruralistic oversimplification of tensions between leader and group, with "good" authority over the People dependent above all on loyalty to the unerotic visions of innocence cultivated by youth rather than on desire for a magnitude of love that "insincere," conflict-ridden social codes deny people. Jooss was skillful in exposing socially coded movement, but he
lacked the imagination, so strong in Wigman, to perceive the power of movement to differentiate bodies, to free bodies from social codes; he failed to create in movement, rather than in a story, a convincing representation of human salvation and freedom.
Like every gifted student of Laban, Jooss attracted many strongly talented dancers (especially men, perhaps to a greater degree than any other Weimar dance personality), including Karl Bergeest (1904–1983), Jens Keith (1898–1958), Rudolf Pescht (1904–1959), Ernst Uthoff (b. 1904), Hans Zullig (b. 1914), Elsa Kahl (b. 1902), Trude Pohl (1907–1975), Lisa Czobel (b. 1906), Frida Holst, and Heinz Rosen (1908–1972). His company contained dancers from Poland, Latvia, Switzerland, France, England, Hungary, Holland, Austria, and the United States (Agnes de Mille collaborated with the Ballets Jooss in New York in 1942); no doubt his devotion to accessible theatrical narrative enhanced his appeal for young dancers wary of the great risks involved in pursuing more abstract or experimental forms of dance, with their smaller and more cultish sense of community. After World War II, when Leeder went to Chile, the doctrine of building dance out of socially coded movement spread further through the international dispersion of Jooss's disciples. But it was in Germany that his influence reached most deeply, for in postwar Germany he appeared almost alone in proposing that dance exposed contemporary social realities by being "about" the very movements that constructed social identities and relations in the world inhabited by the spectator. As he once remarked in Der Scheinwerfer (11/12, March 1928, 23): "But the dancer himself . . . experiences the highest human happiness: to rise up out of the pitiful, sorrowful realm of the small, personal quotidian life and to ascend, with body and soul, as a human of flesh and blood, into the heaven of all religions: the eternal fantasy." Thus, even the effort to produce a sober, "objective" critique of the social basis for movement and bodily expressivity carried with it a grandiose hunger for ecstasy.