Dance: the big sell-out

Audiences can't get enough of Momix. But what are they watching?
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They're playing baseball at Sadler's Wells. Not quite what you expect at the country's premier dance house, but then the American dance company Momix sees itself as more than just a dance company.

The US critics adore them, eulogising over their energy and regarding them as a healthy corrective to the severity of much contemporary dance and an enhancement to the brash world of entertainment. Their British counterparts despise them, pointing to a superficiality, a vulgarity even. Too many effects, not enough dance, too flashy, too... American? Maybe the wrong critics are being sent. Your average balletomane isn't going to find much to enjoy here. Audiences would probably agree, and there are enough of those. Moses Pendleton, the company's creator and director, has cloned Momix so that there are three versions touring Europe and America. Earlier this year, his latest work Baseball opened at the small town of New London, Connecticut and the entire audience of middle- (and many middle-aged) Americans gave it a spontaneous standing ovation.

Pendleton was thrilled. "In mainstream America this very conservative audience looks at four nearly naked women stretched out on U-shaped stage pieces in the middle of a family entertainment called Baseball. It's fairly outrageous." He hastily points out that the nudity, "a glorifying of the body", is a tiny part of the show which he sees as a "hybridisation" of forms and ideas.

"It's drawn from the worlds of sport, street life, dinner conversation, the dance world, many things that aren't specific to one genre. I think of it as visual theatre with sound, light, bodies, some dance, extensions of the body with props... all to create movement and imagery that you wouldn't get if you were just doing dance steps."

From the Forties musical Take Me Out to the Ball Game to Field of Dreams, Baseball comes in a long line of works celebrating the all-American pastime. Phrases like "I'll take a rain-check" and getting to "first base" with somebody are part of the language. Commissioned by the San Francisco Giants, the piece has grown from its original 20-minute form as Bat Habits into the full evening now on display in London.

The work makes enormous physical demands of the performers. Much of the choreography relates back to Pendleton's early interest in athletics (he was a championship skier and did his first dance class in order to get back in shape for the ski team). The dancers - one of whom is encased in a giant ball-shaped costume - are only part of the picture. Images of the game are projected across a huge gauze and he uses giant-sized props including a vast catcher's mitt.Hardly the stuff of pure dance, which is precisely what upsets the British critical fraternity. Armed with awards and commissions galore, Pendleton is unrepentant. "In London there is this question about whether or not it's dance. It has never been a question of ours. My only principal is musicality. I love movement and playing with the body. You can achieve so much with that."

n 'Baseball', Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0171-713 6000) to Sat