Waiting for Gottschild

The Performance Garage presents ‘From Zero to Sixty,’ a tribute to Helmutt Gottschild

3 minute read
Looking for Hellmut Gottschild: ensemble members of ‘From Zero to Sixty.’ (Photo by Karen M. Smith.)
Looking for Hellmut Gottschild: ensemble members of ‘From Zero to Sixty.’ (Photo by Karen M. Smith.)

From Zero to Sixty filled the Performance Garage with Philadelphia dance history from the 1970s, purportedly a tribute to ZeroMoving Dance Company and its founder Hellmut Gottschild. On stage and in the audience were many of the dancers who emerged from the company or from classes Gottschild taught at Temple for several decades, too numerous to name. But the expectant audience had a long wait before actually enjoying Gottschild’s opus.

The Gottschild way

As Mary Wigman’s last student in Germany, Gottschild is the last living link to her legacy, and brought her aesthetic (and the gong she used to call class to begin) to Philadelphia in 1968 under the auspices of Gruppe Motion, a name soon Americanized to Group Motion. But within four years, Gottschild’s aesthetic morphed away from Group Motion’s and even from Wigman’s “German Expressionist” style to his own inimitable dance language. Sure, there were often echoes of Wigman, but Gottschild needed to explore beyond the boundaries he arrived with, and didn’t always take himself as seriously as Wigman did.

We saw his self-effacing sense of humor in some of the video outtakes at the end of the performance. And since former ZeroMoving dancers—Renee Banson, Lisa Bardarson, Terry Beck, Patty Veit, and Christine Vilardo—organized the show, you would have thought it would focus on Gottschild. Well, there was one paean at the end of the evening: a brief excerpt of 1977’s Night Tales with composer Paul Epstein’s original score.

A lengthy start

Billed as an evening of dance, music, and memories, From Zero to Sixty featured former collaborators from the original Relâche Ensemble providing some of the music, notably Flossie Ierardi, still one of the best percussionists and improvisers around.

For the first two hours, instead of seeing reconstructions of his dances, the expectant audience saw a confusion of works that bore no relation to Gottschild’s oeuvre, or his frames of reference, though they did seem to have the passing of time and life’s existential events as a throughline. An unfortunately overlong skit threw so many of these ideas out in an embarrassingly pseudo-comical way, I was surprised no one walked out. But the Performance Garage is a hard venue to escape unnoticed.

Terry Beck to the rescue

Finally, Terry Beck saved the day in the most amazing way. The Philadelphia premiere of his Harbour harkened back to Gottschild’s clear and crisp choreographic viewpoints. His set (by Mitch Fitzgibbon) consisted of an old boat, oars shipped upwards in the rowlocks and an assortment of old clocks piled up against it.

Hellmut Gottschild (right) appears with Gary W. Jeter II in Nicolo Fonte’s ‘Beautiful Decay’ at BalletX. (Photo by Bill Hebert.)
Hellmut Gottschild (right) appears with Gary W. Jeter II in Nicolo Fonte’s ‘Beautiful Decay’ at BalletX. (Photo by Bill Hebert.)

I hadn’t seen Beck dance since the ‘80s at the Painted Bride, and he stunned me as he stepped onstage. To his own soundscape of foghorns, David Rudge’s music, and text taken from a Louise Gluck work, he danced with the bluesy cool of a Leonard Cohen song.

All in black save for his white shirt, his long trench coat flared behind him in deep knee lunges, his beautifully expressive hands muted abruptly as he propelled himself forward and made rapid directional turns in succession. He ended sitting upright in the boat ready to row into the future.

Then he wowed the finally awakened audience with an unaffected yet sexy rendition of Is That All There Is?

But it wasn’t. The tributes that ought to have come at the show’s opening followed Beck, plus the video excerpts, which included a Skype clip of the still-gorgeous Karen Bamonte (an expat in Italy), and more recent collaborations by Gottschild and his wife, author/dancer Brenda Dixon Gottschild, took place. One astonishing solo etched in my memory from the era was of him flinging his arms back so violently they looked like they would fly out of his shoulder blades. It would have been the time to invite Gottschild onto the stage and confer a bouquet on him. I bet he might have shown us a step or two.

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What, When, Where

From Zero to Sixty, an evening of dance, music and memories. Organized by former ZeroMoving dancers Renee Banson, Lisa Bardarson, Terry Beck, Patty Veit, and Christine Vilardo. October 4, 2019 at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine St, Philadelphia. performancegarage.org.

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