What would Vishnu do?

In a pre-game warm-up piece which appeared in these pages two years ago, I confessed my Momix fandom as well as my trepidation concerning their then-upcoming Diana Wortham Theatre Mainstage performance of Baseball.

Baseball? Dance? Oh dear. Absent beer, baseball is ineluctably tedious, and Diana Wortham doesn’t run Thirsty Thursday performances. In the event, I wasn’t particularly disappointed or surprised. The performance was superb, but the theme failed me completely. The previous year’s rendition of Momix in Orbit far surpassed the too literally hidebound Baseball in inventiveness and exuberance. Give me dancers pirouetting on snow skis over Louisville Sluggers any day.

But, like my pacifist painter cousin who’s a boxing fan, Momix founder Moses Pendleton is apparently and inexplicably enamored of a sport completely at odds with his creative life. Then again, he grew up milking Holsteins in Vermont, born into a real farm team.

Far more tantalizing to me than the clubhouse story portrayed in Baseball were the video clips of Pendleton’s Passion running outside the performance hall. As I wrote at the time, those clips included “the most artfully sensuous dance passages I have ever seen.” And those in a piece based on Peter Gabriel’s score for Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ. Sex and religion are ever a potent brew, spawning by turns virgin worship or Mel Gibson’s wide-screen sadomasochism.

From reviews around the country over the 15 years since Passion‘s debut, it is clear that the show serves up Pendleton at the height of his considerable talent and invention, with no dalliance at the extremes. The story line compasses human history and evolution in a pageant of spirituality that draws on many of humanity’s principal religions and cultures. As always, humor is just below the surface, ready to puncture bubbles of too-seriousness wherever they emerge. Use of paired dancers’ torsos and legs enables completely impossible contortion, while finely honed bodies approach impossible movement in truth. (Prudish sorts are best warned that the performance includes nudity, albeit viewed through gauzy screens and in silhouette. That said, and based on reviews, I have no qualms about taking a friend’s 7-year-old daughter to the performance.)

Momix moves as much in the range of the muscular and gravity-defying Cirque du Soleil as in modern-dance tradition, and the players are as apt to be gymnasts or mountain climbers as formally trained dancers. The troupe’s reliance on elaborate, even fantastic props tends to put off dance purists who believe that human form and technique, unaided, offer the highest level of terpsichorean achievement. If this is dance for the masses — in the same sense that poetry slams and modern English Shakespeare are pitched to the crowd — call me happily plebeian.

Pendleton understands human musculature and grace as well as spectacle. Combining current technology with dance, which arguably constitutes the most fully cross-cultural art form, he has fashioned a global body of work that spans more than three decades and reaches into every medium. His work has appeared in movies and on television, as opening pageantry for Olympic games and in the first 3-D IMAX film. He has choreographed rock videos and the “Homage a Picasso” in Paris, Prince’s Batdance segment in the film Batman and work based on Native American folklore for the Arizona Ballet.

Passion will sell out both performances. Momix is easily the most popular dance troupe on Diana Wortham’s laudably diverse and engaging schedule. If this sounds like your ticket, propel yourself (aerially?) to your phone, because there’s no telling when Momix will dance this way again.

Momix: Passion shows at 8 p.m. at Diana Wortham Theatre on Tuesday, April 4 and Wednesday, April 5. Tickets cost $32/general, $30/seniors, $27/students, $10/children. For information and reservations, call 257-4530.

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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