BEFORE he had an inkling of an idea about what a choreographer does, young Moses Pendleton used to spend long, languid summer days firing a yellow tennis ball at a wall practicing his pitching. "I would listen to the radio, the Boston Red Sox, and I would pitch along with the game," he said the other day from his dance studio/office in Washington, Conn. Pendleton for many years put baseball behind him. While he religiously followed his beloved Red Sox, he gave up honing his throwing arm, for in college he discovered something equally kinetic and even more creative to challenge his athlete's body: dance.
Pendleton is founder and choreographer of Momix, the beloved and quirky modern troupe that sprouted from seeds planted by Pilobolus, the progenitor of a distinctive brand of modern dance that favors acrobatics, collaboration and an unfettered imaginative approach to choreography. Pilobolus, created in 1971 by four Dartmouth College graduates and their dance composition teacher, has spawned a modest-size industry in the modern-dance field. Today Momix, one of a handful of companies working in the collaborative experimental tradition of Pilobolus, incorporates gymnastic-style physicality, a zany approach to ideas big and small, and crowd-pleasing accessibility.
Over the years Pendleton has choreographed for the world's great stages -- including the Paris Opera and Milan's La Scala. His work was commissioned for the 1980 Winter Olympics closing ceremonies as well as for rock music videos and 3-D IMAX films. But Pendleton returned to one of his early loves a decade ago when he created the evening-length "Baseball," which slides into the Columbia Festival of the Arts for a one-night-only gig Saturday.
"Baseball is a timeless experience, a piece of Americana," Pendleton explained about his love for the game. "It's also our [nation's] history. What an enlightened idea to sit in a park and be among the greenery and watch this slow, languid game."
When the choreographer and die-hard Red Sox fan planned his homage to the boys of summer a decade ago, he said, he "was going to make the piece like a Keats poem. I was going to write the first stanza in the bud of spring and I wanted to follow a baseball season through to the playoffs." But, alas, Pendleton notes one dark day -- Aug. 12, 1994 -- as others recall historical events like D-Day or the day President Kennedy was assassinated. It was the day the infamous baseball strike began. He still completed his choreography, and in the piece Pendleton incorporated ideas culled from spring training sessions with the San Francisco Giants.
"Baseball," the choreographed work, takes shape in 18 sections tagged with monikers such as "Bat Habits," "Glove at First Sight," "The Umpire Strikes Back" and "Rite of Spring Training." A plotless showpiece, the work parses the possibilities in movement with a glove, a bat and nine players on a grassy expanse. Both clever and whimsical, for baseball lovers like Pendleton, "it's not just a game. It's a muse about this extraordinary experience." Play ball.
MOMIX IN "BASEBALL" -- Saturday at 7:30. Rouse Theatre, 5460 Trumpeter Rd., Columbia. 800-955-5566 or www.columbiafestival.com.