Field of surreal dreams
by Stephanie Rieke
Like any respectable baseball dilettante, I can recite my favorite ballparks, classic and neoclassic (Dodger Stadium and Camden Yards, respectively); name the best World Series team (the 1984 Tigers, of course); and advance my theory behind the sport's current decline (when the National and American Leagues began to play in the sandbox together during the regular season). But leave it to Moses Pendleton and his merry band of acrobatic mischief-makers to uncover the magic behind the myths.
Leading off this twentieth-anniversary year of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival in family-friendly fashion and on Father's Day weekend, no less MOMIX presents its evening-long deconstruction of the (arguably former) national pastime. Baseball developed from a shorter piece originally commissioned to celebrate the opening of a new San Francisco Giants spring training facility in Arizona in 1992, and much of its movement inspiration derives from time spent with the team.
Last seen here in 2001, MOMIX is a self-described troupe of physical theater illusionists with one foot planted in the dance camp and the other firmly outside it. Definitions and narrow categories don't apply. Suffice it to say that since the beginning of his career with Pilobolus and as the founder and artistic director of MOMIX, Pendleton has been committed to breaking artistic boundaries and joyously confounding expectations.
The Baseball cycle opens with the genesis of the game literally and closes with a gloss on the Sistine Chapel's Creation of Adam. But it's not conceived as a chronology of baseball history or the dramatic arc of a particular season. Instead, seven dancers present eighteen story vignettes (with a seventh-inning stretch for intermission) with help from music by such artists as Queen and James Brown, a slide show of baseball imagery, and a play-by-play announcer. As a timeless, multimedia mood piece, Baseball projects a surreal trip to the ballpark of our dreams.
The clichés are impossible to avoid, and Pendleton, in imagination overdrive, revels in them
with cheeky irreverence. Yet he also manages to imbue Baseball with an ephemeral, nostalgic quality, referring to often improbable, yet apt, visual and cultural icons in the process. Baseball as life is the obvious subtext: the ritualized, circuslike spectacle of bats cracking, vendors hollering, and coaches signing, where memories are recycled and kids still try to grasp the crazy semiotics of baseball scorekeeping.
As that illustrious poet-philosopher Ernie Harwell once said, "Baseball is a ballet without music. Drama without words. A carnival without Kewpie dolls. Baseball is continuity. Pitch to pitch. Inning to inning. Season to season."
The MOMIX team is here for a two-day series at the Power Center Saturday and Sunday, June 14 and 15. Play ball!
[Originally published in June, 2003.]