The audience inhaled sharply as Eiko and Koma began When Nights Were Dark at the American Dance Festival at Duke University last June. Before them an inexplicable otherworld appeared, as if in a shared dream. The Japanese couple, who have made mid-Manhattan home for the past 25 years, had designed a stark and lonely landscape with a mini-mountain and a tree with exposed roots on a revolving set. They blent so organically into the set it took a while to perceive them. As the pair emerged into view, the audience's breathing fell into a shared rhythm. Taking a 70-minute journey with Eiko and Koma -- as you can do Thursday night when they perform it again at Gammage Auditorium -- requires that kind of concentration.
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Experiencing Eiko and Koma's dancemaking is like glimpsing what it's like to feel fully alive. If you're striving for that kind of fulfillment, you're the audience for this performance. Wherever you are along this path, Eiko and Koma's exploration of sacral energy rooted in the organic earth will lead you closer to your goal. Without the convoluted values of political correctness or the hypocrisy of compassionate conservatism, the couple conveys a high sense of morality, a deep respect for nature, and an exquisite, almost painful humanity. Their nudity makes them seem vulnerable and brave. The sometimes eerie white lighting makes their flesh glow like gardenia petals. Their slow, austere movement will astonish you with all the information it contains. They may evoke in you a longing to shelter them.
Singers Tunesha Crispell, Corey Durham, Clifton Hill and Michelle Hutcherson, all with a background in gospel music, heighten the overwhelming spirituality of the dance even further. They do not sing words, but their susurrus sounds alternately like wind whistling in the treetops, leaves rustling underfoot, or water running down the mountain. When Nights Were Dark will enlighten you.
Eiko and Koma perform When Nights Were Dark
Gammage Auditorium, Mill and Apache in Tempe
8 p.m., Thursday, February 8. The show contains nudity. Tickets range from $7.50 to $15. Call 480-965-3434 or 480-784-4444.