YOU NEEDN'T understand something completely to be profoundly moved by it. Such is the case with the hypnotic but inscrutable work of the Japanese dance troupe known as Sankai Juku.

These five men, who perform with their heads shaved and their near-naked bodies coated with rice powder, deal in such monumental subjects as life, death, creation and destruction. Their approach is highly ritualistic, very slow-moving, exquisite and grotesque.

The company is one of several working in the style known as butoh. More a philosophy than a movement style, it began as a reaction to the horrors of World War II. Traditional forms like Kabuki, Noh and classical Japanese dance were rejected in favor of primitive movement and violent, rage-filled acts.

Sankai Juku, representing the "third generation" of the butoh style, has developed a more refined version. Artistic director Ushio Amagatsu, a classically trained dancer, is most interested in nature imagery, and in the extreme states of relaxation and tension.

Amagatsu has also proven himself a master of the sensational event. Sankai Juku is best known for its outdoor "hangings," startling performances that involved the dancers hanging upside-down, ropes around their ankles, and lowering themselves down the sides of buildings. These events were discontinued when one of the dancers plunged to his death in Seattle last November.

This weekend in Washington, Sankai Juku will perform "Jomon Sho," an evening-length work that tells the story of evolution in characteristically mesmerizing, enigmatic terms.

SANKAI JUKU -- Friday and Saturday at 8 at the Warner Theater. Call 783-0360.