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Flash Review 2, 6-23: 'When Nights Were Dark'
Dreaming Alone With Eiko and Koma

By Byron Woods
Copyright 2000 Byron Woods

DURHAM, NC -- Lyrical, mythic, elusive, and sidereal -- let those potent adjectives start the description of "When Nights Were Dark," Eiko and Koma's fantastic evening-length work whose expanded version premiered at Durham's American Dance Festival this week. In this new book of slow and subtle changes, the duo took a mostly willing audience into a different time zone, as usual.

But a different destination awaited our discovery. In recent years, Eiko and Koma's Butoh-influenced meditations have been particularly grounded in explorations of the natural world like 1996's "River" and last year's "Snow."

By contrast, "When Nights Were Dark" explores the interior landscape of dream. After a brief introductory section in what appeared to be fluctuating, underwater light, the pair inhabit an enigmatic, evocative and mobile set of their own design. Fashioned from multicolored fabric and driftwood, and only gradually illuminated, the dark red, white, gray and black environment surrounding them suggests an interior at once both organic and fantastic, pulled from the pages of speculative fiction. As this little world slowly rotates, its two separate parts suggest a number of things: a cave with gray and white stalactites, a bower with moss hanging overhead -- or a surreal bed with canopy. Other sections suggest a birth chamber, or a bier; a bed of coals, or a field of ice; a coral reef pulsating with sea anemones, or the interior of the womb. This range of environments is largely suggested through Scott Poitras and Jeff Fontaine's prismatic, evocative lighting.

Given the gradual disclosure of these places, the first challenge involves locating the dancers in them, separating human from non-human. From there the two seem to explore dreams both individual and shared -- at least to a point. At places, their tentative, close proximity work suggests the lovers Paolo and Francesca in the sculptures of Rodin: contact without consummation; an embrace that by definition can never be complete. At times we dream of others, these sections seem to say; yet, we always dream alone.

Joseph Jennings's hypnotic, wordless score for five singers made of human voices something warm, rich and strange. Where they didn't eerily suggest muted trumpets, trombones or bass flute, the slow, sensual long tones recalled in places the work of Louis Andriessen and Arvo Part, occasionally intermixed with gospel or blues modulations. At one point during the performance I wrote "Is this what aurora borealis sounds like?" It's as apt a description as any, for music as meditative and compelling as the visual world that slowly unfolded before us.

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