Eiko & Koma: the role of stillness in dance

Movement is the essence of dance. But its complement - stillness - can also be a rich subject for choreographic study. Eiko & Koma, a Japanese duo based in New York, make a persuasive case that stasis is the equal of kinesis in providing grist for the eyes and the emotions. Their latest work, ``New Moon Stories,'' is a four-part exploration of sculptural poses and slow-motion gestures. Although it's rare for the two dancers to be entirely still, their movements are so gradual that time often seems to have stopped.

Another result of their unconventional pacing is a new kind of relationship between the dancers and their stage d'ecor. Instead of serving as mere supports for the performers, the modest props and costumes and lighting patterns - each with a stolid visual weight of its own - become full and essential partners in the drama.

None of this means that ``New Moon Stories'' is a cold or abstract work, though. Each section has a spare narrative line, focusing on a man and woman who are radically isolated from each other (physically, psychologically, or both) and who poignantly try to communicate. They may be near each other, as in one portion that takes place on a mound of earth; or they may never come close, as in the last segment, which finds them trapped over pools of water on opposite sides of the stage. But their separation always seems both eerie and anguished - recalling the characteristic plight of a Samuel Beckett figure in, say, the bleakly sardonic ``How It Is.''

What rescues ``New Moon Stories'' from any sense of cynicism or despair is its striking combination of discipline and beauty. The dancers (who sometimes appear nude, but never behave erotically) have refined their movements into a seamless flow of pared-down gestures, executed with constant precision and a kind of stark elegance. Eiko & Koma are unique, and so is this brief but evocative work.

``Shadows,'' the third section of ``New Moon Stories,'' was commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music for its ``Next Wave'' festival, which recently hosted its first performances. Two other portions, ``Night Tide'' and ``Elegy,'' date from 1984, while ``Beam'' is one year older. Eiko & Koma provided their own sound and set design for their ``Next Wave'' engagement. The expressive lighting was devised by the gifted Blu.

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