Wearing a white dress, Donna Uchizono, the director and choreographer of State of Heads and Low, came on stage for a bow. She locked hands with her dancers, who were dressed in black, and absorbed the audience’s warm applause. The contrast in attire between dancers and director mirrored the contrast between the two sets performed Friday night at the Emmett Theater.

The first set, State of Heads, was a Stanley Kubrick-meets-Yoko Ono spin on modern dance. When the lights flashed on, a male dancer, his back turned towards a large white backdrop, his costume a pressed suit of pure white, held a tense pose. And he held it for nearly three minutes, until two female dancers, wearing puffy white dresses, scuttled towards him at center stage. In short time all three dancers were moving — sometimes spastically, sometimes merely craning their necks or wiggling their fingers — to the episodic sounds that roar from stage right. An engine’s quiet hum, a coin rolling across a surface, dripping water and finally an intense electric saw propelled the dancers into various postures and movement. The result was a series of captivating episodes that communicated the secret language of gesture and innuendo. The riveting performance was a science experiment with its own life.

The second set, Low, was a seductive piece of balanced choreography. Three dancers controled the stage. The conflict in Low found the dancers involved in personal sport. Their competitiveness registered with the audience through aggressive movements and sudden betrayals. As they spun across one another, their feet and legs intermingling like a bike rack’s many kickstands, a particular grace and effortlessness followed them. The dancers writhed and slithered, their limbs copulated, and moody emotions we expressed by a violin’s pluck; finally, romance bloomed.

The mood sweetened when the female dancer returned onstage locked to a fellow dancer’s torso. She littered the stage with white feathers, until she was laid down and the game resumed. Later, she tossed black feathers at the men’s feet; they subsequently stamped down on the feathers as if they were discarded cigarettes. Low was a romantic performance that was at turns menacing, sweet and sensual, and it was certainly worthy of applause.
When that applause finally arrived, the contrasting attire of Uchizono and her talented dancers served as a reminder of the evening’s more important discussion: the painstaking process of dissecting something special. For better or worse, it defies explanation.

State of Heads and Low • Spoleto Festival USA • $32 • 1 hour 20 min. •June 1 at 7 p.m.; June 1 at 12 p.m.; June 2 at 8 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100