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Weekend Reviews | Dance

'Baseball' a Metaphorical Comedy of Hits

March 30, 1998|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

Never underestimate a man with a secret mission.

The audience came to the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Friday expecting Moses Pendleton's full-evening "Baseball" to offer a hyper-accessible comic tribute to the national pastime performed by Momix in the style of freewheeling, gymnastic movement-theater that Pendleton has developed ever since he co-founded Pilobolus 27 years ago.

And it certainly did. From the puns in the program booklet labeling most of its 18 sections ("Bat Habits," "Glove at First Sight," "The Umpire Strikes Back") to such visual aids as the slightly altered slide of the Sistine Chapel ceiling at the very end of the evening showing God handing a baseball to the newly created Adam, this plotless 1994 Momix showpiece delivered jokes and movement games in nearly delirious profusion. Moreover, the seven-member company danced with such throwaway athletic brilliance that the huge clip-file of baseball imagery projected on the semi-transparent gauze scrim in front of them couldn't begin to distract from their performances.

Pendleton's fusion of comedy, virtuosity and classic Americana may have reached its zenith in an uproarious pop dance retrospective that found the company popping up from inside barrels that had been painted to look like beer cans, hopping and rolling in the cans and taking The Swim down deep into the Bud. Sandy Chase served as leader of the six-pack here and stayed prominent throughout "Baseball" because of his breezy authority and monumental state-of-the-hunk physique.

However, the most valuable player award would undoubtedly belong to Cynthia Quinn for carrying the ball through an extended whirling solo full of spectacular changes of speed and position, dancing with a majestic serenity befitting a true Diamond Goddess.

Quinn's solo belonged to the unexpected dark side of "Baseball," the side that looked at the game as an artifact of our civilization--and reminded us (through slides of the Sphinx of Giza and the ruins of Stonehenge) that no civilization lasts forever. Initially mocked in a parodistic, Stone Age, "2001"-style prologue, this Olympian viewpoint eventually became the heart of Pendleton's sports metaphor, unifying and elevating the slide-screen nostalgia, the jokes, the choreographic display and the prowess of the company until everything seemed an expression of a distinctive way of seeing and interpreting human experience.

Call it Serious Whimsy, if you like--a call to cherish every inane Wheaties commercial as a celebration of the moment because it will soon be gone, along with all the athletes and fans and innocence that brought it into being. Dance has always been considered an ephemeral art, so Pendleton created a perfect match between his theme and medium in making everything else in our lives seem just as transitory and impermanent.

You could argue that his cleverness trapped him in effects that led nowhere: Renee Jaworksi emerging from a giant catcher's mitt like Botticelli's Venus, for example. You could argue that the lengthy sequence in Act 2 involving the manipulation of interlocking horse shoe platforms proved irrelevant to baseball themes and images, merely expanding into group activity those "Circlewalker" solos that used to be a fixture of Momix mixed bills.

Maybe so, but in thought and motion "Baseball" served as a unique breakthrough for the Pilobolus generation: a supremely audience-friendly, high-concept vehicle that managed to shadow nearly every one of its comic highlights with a deeply profound and individual world view.

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