We are between sanity and insanity, beauty and ugliness. Good and evil don't matter; emotion lurches from serenity to rage without warning. East and West, too, have merged: Leering Japanese ghosts waltz to Edith Piaf; a forest hag dressed for a Versailles ball strikes wild kabuki poses. Fear turns frolicksome at a soiree deep inside a nuclear-fallout shelter.

We are in the universe of butoh, the theatrical, ghoulish genre of dance that has, in its four decades of existence, become Japan's biggest contribution to the world of contemporary dance.

Butoh, a word comprising the Chinese characters for "dance" and "step," is a strikingly visual artform in which the butoh-ka (dancers) are often a mere loincloth away from total nudity, their whole bodies smeared in macabre white body paint. Exaggerated facial expressions are as important as movement in getting the point across: Does that off-kilter smile signify innocence, depravity -- or something beyond the bounds of language? Butoh has raised such imponderables since it arose from the rubble of postwar Japan, in the process pushing the envelope of dance.