The poster for Momix's fifteenth anniversary season features a naked woman in profile, head and one leg thrown back, a diaphanous veil not quite masking a bare breast and the curve of a G-string. Momix, the theater-child of Pilobolus co-founder Moses Pendleton, is a little more serious than this image might lead one to believe--but not much. Visual titillation is the keynote of Momix's work. This undermines its real theatrical and dance skills by transforming every idea into a slick effect. The naked women--draping themselves over men's backs with a languorous dexterity worthy of the Moulin Rouge in Passion, or bursting out of a baseball as a giant fist closes around them in Baseball--are just the most obvious instances of moments when there seems little point to the onstage activities other than an aesthetic ploy.
Passion, a work "conceived and directed" by Pendleton in 1991, presents twenty-one tableaux set to Peter Gabriel's score for the film The Last Temptation of Christ. Performing entirely behind a scrim, the dancers are bathed in a constant flow of projections--trees, angels, Buddhas, ice floes flowers, faces--and illuminated by backlighting that allows them to appear and dissolve away with compelling ease. The work begins with a tight cluster of dancers making geometric shapes by extruding their limbs, finally emerging from their composite whole as individualed beings. Successive sequences present not-quite-human shapes; but evolution seems to take n course and soon the newly formed creatures are gliding through acrobatic adagio acts and an impressive ribbon dance.
Passion seems to be loosely concerned with religion--images of monks, rebirth, crucifixion, and redemption permeate the dance--and perhaps more explicitly with the idea of the Passion and its heightened emotions of suffering and exaltation. But as in the evening-length Baseball, also presented (together with a mixed bill, which I didn't see) during this New York season, Pendleton waters down often-brilliant theatrical conceits by presenting them in a relentless, yet chopped-up, emanation of ingenuity. After a while, both Passion and Baseball feel like cabaret revues that grab your attention with clever tricks but don't ever pull you into their artistic universe.
The 1994 Baseball started off as a shorter work, Bat Habits, now the third of eighteen sections that comprise the piece. In its longer form, the work is overextended for a fairly basic, if fun idea: a theatrical look at the movements and conventions of the game. Again, Pendleton offers multiple projections on a front scrim--portraits of famous players, stadiums, newspaper headlines--and discrete episodes that fit to musical extracts from Freddie Mercury to Arvo Part. But it all wears rather thin over two acts, since choreographic takes on swinging and pitching are necessarily limited, and visual gags, like a human baseball on roller skates, or dancing beer cans, soon pall.
Pendleton is an odd mix of talents--a descendant of Alwin Nikolais in his use of mixed media, his interest in technology and the effects of lighting on perception, and his desire to entertain. Nikolais, however, also hoped to enchant, and often did. Pendleton doesn't seem to be that ambitious.
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|Title Annotation:||Joyce Theater, New York, New York|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1997|
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