Slowly, deliberately, Eiko & Koma build exquisite movement pieces that touch a primal nerve.
In "Beam," a strikingly different pas de deux, Koma grips Eiko as she ascends hesitantly but triumphantly toward the sky and slowly slinks to the ground. In "By the River," the two rise from frozen, primordial tundra to couple, organisms struggling dumbly with biological destiny. In "Thirst," they are parched and needy, searching each other's bodies for moisture in a desert wasteland.
Tonight and tomorrow at Towson State University, Eiko & Koma perform "Passing," part of a larger work in progress called "Wind," built around the idea that "wind is the breath of life."
Their appearance opens the sixth season of Dance on the Edge, sponsored by the Downtown Dance Company and the Towson State University Department of Dance.
For 18 years, Eiko and her male companion Koma -- "We call ourselves simply by our first names to be as naked and simple as possible," they say -- have been dancing together.
The couple met in Japan, where they studied avant-garde dance. Later, they studied modern dance in Germany. But over the years, they have forged their own dance language that has been highly praised.
Of their work, one critic writes: "Eiko & Koma concern themselves with universal processes of creation and destruction, and they harbor few illusions about nature. Their dances are grim. Yet . . . they do possess dignity and even a kind of austere beauty."
"We both breathe in a lot of peoples' spirits, which made us the way we are, and make us work the way we do," Eiko says by phone from New York City.
Like the air they share with all living things, Eiko and Koma's dances belong to all who inspired them and to all who see them, she says.
In the same regard, they are not creating new dances, but interpreting the oldest dances of all: "We are trying to find out with our own bodies many things that are already there," Koma says. As they discover the root workings of nature through their own movement, they are able "to give our bodies what we have lost," Eiko says.
Eiko and Koma developed their unique style in part to cut across all cultural boundaries, Eiko says. Differences "really don't matter if we're talking about something fundamental," she says.
Because they met when they were young students and continue to work together through the threshold of middle age, Eiko, 40, says that she and Koma, 44, have a "different energy than the time we met."
They also have two sons, age 7 and 4, who often participate in their parents' dances as "character/prop/environment/scene," Eiko says. Do the boys enjoy their roles? "I don't ask that question," Eiko says. "I give them a chance to do it or not to do it."
Following their performances, Eiko and Koma often participate in discussions with the audience, as they will do this weekend. "The audience really needs to be completing" the process of presenting and understanding a dance," Eiko says.
In counterpoint to their austere dances, Eiko & Koma also teach a "Delicious Movements" master class, which Eiko calls "very inclusive and non-judgmental."
Eiko & Komo
What: Performances and master class.
When: Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. Discussions with the artists will be held after the performances. Master class takes place 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. tomorrow.
Where: Dance performances take place in Stephens Hall Theatre, Towson State University. Master class will be held in Burdick Hall on Towsontowne Boulevard.
Admission: $15 adults; $13 TSU faculty, staff, alumni; $11 senior citizens, full-time students and children; $5 TSU students. The master class is $10 for the general public.
Call: (410) 830-3369.