A dance that seeks to represent the experience of sleeping — that sounds like a risky prospect, tempting viewers’ eyelids to droop in a darkened theater. But Saburo Teshigawara’s “Sleeping Water” isn’t a snooze. Neither, though, is it a consistently absorbing dream. It’s more like a restless night, in which stretches of lulling sameness are fitfully interrupted, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not.
Near the start of this 70-minute work, which had its North American premiere at the Rose Theater on Thursday as part of the Lincoln Center Festival, that troubled-sleep dynamic is staged. For long stretches, prone dancers appear to be dozing in silence, their heads or torsos popping up periodically as something wakes them.
Yet the preceding scene is more typical. To the sound of water flowing, Mr. Teshigawara, a Japanese choreographer who has appeared at the festival twice before, slowly drifts across the stage, his tendril arms floating like seaweed. His highly articulate movement style, buoyant with breath, can make the air around him seem denser, almost liquid.
This style is shared by the six-dancer ensemble, which includes Aurélie Dupont, the director of dance for the Paris Opera Ballet. (Mixed in with the others from Mr. Teshigawara’s company, Karas, she nevertheless stands out for her stage presence and greater gravity.) It is a style that may speed up, so that arms scythe through space in spirals, unspooling light trails through persistence of vision. And it may decelerate, so that it resembles slow-motion mime. But it almost never stops. Mr. Teshigawara is a calligrapher whose brush rarely leaves the paper. His arms can’t help but ripple.
The ceaselessness gains coherence in the middle of the work, when the recorded score of miscellany, intermittently flooded with water sounds, turns to Bach. In the long skeins of notes in a Bach partita or fugue, Mr. Teshigawara’s choreography finds an aural counterpart, nearly becoming a kind of freehand music visualization. But the music doesn’t necessarily matter. He applies the same style, with an agitated energy and some Elvis-like hip circles, to the Rolling Stones’s “Paint It Black.”
The sameness is a problem, or the seeming sameness. If you pay close attention, you can discover variety and small surprises. But the accumulating impression is of a monotony that isn’t really disturbed by the rather hokey crashes of thunder in the score or the plastic-tube furniture and transparent panels that are lowered on wires to hover for a moment before rising and retreating.
The set design is by Mr. Teshigawara, as is the paint-it-black costume design and the shadow-heavy lighting. He is capable of wondrous effects, as when he illuminates the stage from the sides in bands: The dancers, moving through the stripes at various speeds, could be rising and falling through layers of water — a submarine world of sleep viewed from a different angle.
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