What went wrong is not easy to pinpoint, but Zero Moving Company generated only a fraction of the excitement one might reasonably have anticipated on the basis of their last visit. A year ago, the Philadelphia based troupe made its local debut at the Washington Project for the Arts, and the effect was revelatory and enthralling. At the Marvin Theater last night, as the season's final entry in the Smithsonian's new American Dance Experience series, Zero was as conceptually intriguing as before. The evening's impact, however, in a program two-thirds identical with the first one, seemed drastically diminished.
Be this as it may, the group remains a compelling one from many standpoints -- from their collaborative methodology, to their use of body, voice and props as musical resources, to the aura of ritual and mystery their works engender.
Not previously seen here was "Vindauga," collectively choreographed like most of Zero's repertory, but conceived and directed by Hellmut Gottschild (Zero's founder and one of its four co-directors) as a tribute to the great German expressionist pioneer Mary Wigman, who was his teacher and guide. The piece is in the nature of an evocation of Wigman, through its from-the-inside-out movement idiom, its organic sense of space and its group dynamics.
Also on the program were "Riverways," a beautifully developed study in rhythmic and spatial oscillation, and the hauntingly suggestive dream-scape "Night Tales," but neither was realized in full. Zero's performances, which aim at nothing less than magic, depend so much on the interaction of the performers -- with each other, with the surrounding space, with the audience -- that minor disturbances in any of these relationships can quench the spell. Even so, in imaginative scope and originality, it is hard to think of many contemporary dance ensembles that hold as much promise as Zero.