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Dancing in the Park

Newcomers like Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez may have helped resuscitate the Oriole offense with their .300-plus hitting, but as local fans can attest, 2004 hasn't brought much virtuosity to Camden Yards.

For an evening of baseball artistry, dedicated seamheads might consider a change in their usual schedule tonight and head to the James Rouse Theatre on the campus of Columbia's Wilde Lake High School, where one of the world's top dance troupes stages its free-wheeling performance, Baseball, which captures the spirit of Abner Doubleday's game in a way that transcends the often painful vagaries of the A.L. East standings.

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The brainchild of award-winning choreographer Moses Pendleton, a Vermont native best known for founding the avant-garde dance company Pilobolus in the 1970s, Baseball began life in 1992 as a series of dance sketches called Bat Habits. Against a backdrop of eclectic music, Pendleton's troupe explored and mimed baseball gestures as commonplace as a runner's slide into third and a player's indelicately scratching his crotch. The dancers found whimsy, beauty and anthropological meaning in a game Pendleton has followed since childhood.

Bat Habits, which Pendleton created to commemorate the opening of the San Francisco Giants' spring-training complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., became the forerunner for Baseball, now a signature piece in the repertoire of MOMIX, the internationally celebrated troupe of dancer-illusionists he founded 20 years ago. Pendleton debuted Baseball during one of the game's darkest hours: the strike of 1994.

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Critics and audiences raved. The piece, Time magazine wrote, "revives the buoyant, untrammeled spirit of what playing and watching the game has been and ought to be." Wrote The New York Times: "Take the kids. Baseball, a mixed-media dance piece ... is a true family show." MOMIX has performed the work intermittently ever since.

Audiences will behold a show as multidimensional, unpredictable and, ultimately, as coherent as an evening at a big-league park. Pendleton's subtitles - puns like "Glove at First Sight" and "The Umpire Strikes Back" - reflect the goofy feel of a spectacle in which larger-than-life bats, gargantuan human baseballs on roller skates and dancers clad in barrel-sized beer cans vie for attention. The director shows us what might happen if a charging outfielder, rather than crashing into a wall, gets swallowed up in it. Cavemen discover crude bats and balls and begin playing. (Warning: This primordial paradise features brief nudity.)

But Baseball, performed tonight as part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts, is as much Hall of Fame as Hieronymous Bosch: Pendleton finds poetry in the three-way kabuki among hurler, hitter and umpire. Headlines from old newspapers flash across an onstage scrim. So do images of the game's greats, from Babe Ruth to Willie Mays. Like the leather strands that lace together a glove, history and humor interpenetrate.

In the midst of a long and trying season, O's fans might appreciate this chance, however fleeting, to enjoy the poetry of their favorite sport without having to keep score. Imagine the joy of knowing, for once, that it really is about how the game is played.

Baseball

Where: Columbia Festival of the Arts, James Rouse Theatre, Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia

When: 7:30 tonight

Tickets: $40, $35, $25; available online at www.tickets.com or through the Tickets.com call center at 800-955-5566

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Call: 410-715-3089 or visit www.columbiafestival.com


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