Isolated in pools of light and puddles of water at opposite sides of the stage at the Ford Theater on Saturday, Eiko Otake and Koma Takashi reached out, staggered and collapsed violently, their naked bodies dripping and glistening as they strained to realign arms or legs, to master weight and arise. . . .

The painful struggle against the conditions of existence--gravity, the easily toppled (or tangled) human body, the water that can nourish or destroy--marked Eiko and Koma’s “Elegy” as primal dance drama. To move at all became a perilous act, and though we have all felt this fear in our first steps as babies or, perhaps, in relearning certain skills after an injury, Eiko and Koma extended the feeling into a 15-minute cadenza of splayed limbs and crumpled torsos.

In “Grain,” rice poured like water from Eiko’s hands down across her breasts to the raised rectangular platform or splashed up over Koma’s shoulders when he flung himself onto a sleeping mat at the other side. Divided by blackouts but unified by the sowing of rice, the episodes of this tense, hourlong piece often highlighted a single action or image and, again, concentrated on dismantling our reflexes and examining the labor and suffering it can cost to survive.


The final scene of relationship--Koma force-feeding Eiko gobs of soft white rice until she collapsed--introduced a new formality (both in the ceremonial presentation of the food and in the structuralist movement recapitulations) while sustaining the uncompromising nihilist viewpoint.

Unlike Sankaijuku’s almost glamorous style of butoh, Eiko and Koma never prettify violence or make grotesquerie picturesque. In this performance (fourth local appearance of the Japanese-born couple since 1977), they again displayed extraordinary concentration and rigorous control plus an ability to involve us deeply in their pitiless vision.