Long on Reverence, Short on Wit

`Baseball production design captures the game's essence, but choreography misses the fun


Performed by Momix Dance Company.

THERE was a time when baseball was fun. That was before the modern era, with players on strike and the World Series canceled, and before the public-television documentary by Ken Burns treated the subject with a solemnity and length that exceeded previous documentaries on the Civil War and Franklin D. Roosevelt combined.

Moses Pendleton, the artistic director of the dance company Momix and the creator of its new evening-length piece, ``Baseball,'' handles the topic with the same reverence. Nearly two hours long, filled with ponderous stretches scored to mystical, New Age music, the work doesn't provide the fun that its subject matter would seem to warrant.

Momix has always been known as a dance company for people who don't like dance (much like Pilobolus, the company from which it sprang), and for the cleverness of its visual conceptions and designs. The witticisms that permeate some of the company's best pieces are too little in evidence here. There are too many stretches where, costuming aside (the dancers wear tights resembling old-fashioned uniforms), the choreography has little or nothing to do with the sport.

Also, considering that the piece is presumably geared to families, Mr. Pendleton hasn't let the subject dissuade him from working bare-breasted female dancers into the evening.

The multimedia work is more notable for its production design, props, and lighting than for its choreography. To make that impossible catch, the players magically float in the air. A huge baseball ricochets across the stage, only to be caught by a giant baseball glove. At many points, visuals with highlights of the game's history are projected over the dancers.

Composed of 17 fragments, the stylistic tone of the piece is all over the map. The more playful segments work much better than the serious ones (such as the one that depicts the birth of the sport as something like the prehistoric-man segment from ``2001'').

There is even, occasionally, some memorable dancing, including an amazing solo by Cynthia Quinn in which she spins around and around while manipulating a baseball.

But for genuinely amusing choreography that captures the essence of the sport, check out Rob Marshall's work in the current Broadway revival of ``Damn Yankees.''

* In Toronto Jan. 17-21; in Ottawa Feb. 1; in Aspen, Colo., March 10-11; and in Glassboro, N.J., March. 30-31.

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