Take Me Out; Get Me Drunk

Two upcoming dance performances honor two American pastimes: baseball and boozin'

Swinging through the Southwest during spring training, MOMIX makes a run into Tucson next Wednesday night with Baseball.

The evening-length dance work in two acts opens with the putative invention of baseball back in the Stone Age, and swings forward in time all the way up to the great baseball strike. The MOMIX dancers, renowned for their athleticism and technique, do everything from portraying a baseball to joining forces to make a giant baseball glove.

Enchanted with "the notion that baseball is an icon of Americana," choreographer Moses Pendleton took the "images of baseball and turned them into dance," says Carolyn Minor, a Tucsonan who danced with MOMIX for six years.

"Think about on a summer day, when the ball is hit high into the air, the moment is full of potential. The whole place pauses. Moses took these moments and gestures and broke them apart."

Giant photographs--including of Stonehenge, ostensible birthplace of the sport--are projected onto a scrim. Besides enriching the visual mix on the stage, the transparent images give the dancers more movement possibilities, Minor says.

"The dancers can go into the dark spot of the frame. They have more entrances and exits."

The musical score, which Minor says is "fabulous," samples Loreena McKennitt, James Brown and Queen. (See below for a weekend show of multimedia performance works by local artists.)

"Is it art or is it entertainment?" Minor muses. "It's a fine line, but at the very least it's entertaining." Sports-illiterate dance lovers like the piece, she adds, but so do baseball fans.

According to Time magazine, the work "revives the buoyant, untrammeled spirit of what playing and watching the game has been and ought to be."

Baseball has a connection to Arizona, one of two spring training capitals. Artistic director Pendleton first started creating it back in 1992 in Scottsdale. Commissioned by the Scottsdale Cultural Council and the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, the original piece, "Bat Habits," was performed at the opening of the San Francisco Giants' brand-new spring training ball park in Scottsdale. Two years later, Pendleton revamped the work and renamed it. (Pendleton returned to Phoenix a few years later, at the behest of Michael Uthoff, then artistic director of Ballet Arizona, to create a new work for that company.)

Pendleton was a founding member of Pilobolus, the high-energy, inventive troupe that gyrated through town last month. Founded in a dance class at Dartmouth College in the early 1970s, Pilobolus' combo of athleticism and how-did-they-do-that partnerings found immediate success in the dance world. Pendleton started moving out into his own projects as early as 1980, when he made a new dance work called "Momix" for another sporting event: the closing ceremonies of the Lake Placid Winter Olympics in 1980.

The new troupe began the following year, and Pendleton's been its artistic director since 1984. In the intervening years, he's choreographed for opera companies from the Munich State Opera to La Scala, and for movies and TV. He won the Positano Choreographic Award in 1999.

Like Pilobolus, MOMIX is known for its quirky and playful take on modern dance. Pendleton has described his troupe as a company of "dancer-illusionists" who revel in "props, light, shadow, humor and the human body."

"Moses is an extremely resourceful guy," Minor says. "He gathers around him people who can see his vision, filmmakers, musicians and dancers. Some of his dancers have even been circus people."

Thom Lewis has revived his "Closet Irish" modern dance work just in time for St. Patrick's Day--almost.

The quartet will get a new staging Friday and Saturday nights, right after the big Irish holiday, in the O-T-O Dance warehouse show Surreal Buffet.

Set in a bar, with tables and chairs scattered about, the piece is a "drinking dance," Lewis asserts. "If there are drinking songs, there should be drinking dances. It's not to be taken too seriously."

Lewis, a co-artistic director of FUNHOUSE movement theater, set the piece on O-T-Oers Nicole Stansbury (who performed it last year in the O-T-O spring show at Stevie Eller), Lindsay Spilker, Nicole Sasala and Lena Lauer. They'll cavort, pseudo-drunkenly, to music by the politically oriented Irish band Black 47.

"It's Riverdance meets Tupac. It's appropriate because I'm black Irish," notes Lewis, a dark-haired Irish-American long ago transplanted to Tucson from New Jersey.

The warehouse makes a good setting for the intimate bar work, he adds. The evening of performance works, by a whole battalion of local dancers and musicians, will take place in two separate spaces within the vast O-T-O studios. The audience will be divided into two groups, and the artists will all perform their shows twice, in the two different studios. One contingent of viewers will stay in the south studio, and one will head to the north; at intermission, they'll switch, so everyone will end up seeing every act.

The alternating spaces and simultaneous shows will help "thrust the viewer into the gray area between participant and audience member," say the O-T-O folks in their press release. As the audience travels between studios, they'll get a chance to see the visual artworks of Marvin Lowe on the walls in between. (Lowe is the father of UA ballet professor Melissa Lowe.)

Dance styles on the agenda include everything from modern, aerial and flamenco to African, hip-hop and fox trot, with the regular O-T-O dancers joined by Anton Smith, Barbara Schuessler and others.

Karen Falkenstrom and Rome Hamner of Odaiko Sonora, who performed their trademark Japanese Taiko drumming in last month's formal O-T-O concert, make a return engagement. Continuing with the percussion theme, Erica and Jeremy Cryzter pound West African drums. Kephart Taiz plays the harp, and Lars Odsather strums the classical guitar.