September 16, 2011

An evening with butoh dancers Eiko and Koma is a welcome respite in an era when many of us are accustomed to barreling through the day with one hand on a smartphone, one hand on a steering wheel and our brains somewhere else entirely.

Through dances that are unapologetically slow-paced and dreamlike in mood and setting, the pair can make the brains of even the most overstimulated multi-taskers grind to a halt, bringing the beauty and importance of the simplest movements and the most instinctive emotions into sharp focus.

The dancers’ Thursday performance at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts opened with “Raven,” a work that is haunted by the looming presence of death. With scorched canvas underfoot and raven feathers and dried reeds scattered about, the set looked like a post-apocalyptic desert. As a woman facing mortality, Eiko rarely made it to a standing position, instead spending most of the piece seated or lying down. With her hollow eyes and decrepitude, she seemed devastatingly fragile, making each movement look like an arduous but doomed attempt to survive.

“Night Tide” had an uncomplicated premise: The dancers started on opposite sides of the stage and slowly moved toward its center, where they finally touched. It didn’t have the impact of “Raven,” but the movement was fascinating to watch.

The evening’s final selection was a vibrant and relatable excerpt from 1976’s “White Dance,” the duo’s first choreographic collaboration.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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