Fred Astaire merely danced up the walls and across the ceiling. Sébastien Ramirez acts more like a superhero. Slowly pedaling his legs in the air, the French hip-hop choreographer could be an astronaut walking in outer space.
A dancer of uncommon finesse and control, he requires no external assistance to convey the illusion of operating in lower gravity. But in Wang Ramirez’s “Borderline,” he has help: wires and rigging that allow him to shoot up suddenly or dive headfirst and stop to hover an inch from the ground.
This extension of technique is the most striking aspect of the 70-minute work, which had its New York premiere on Friday at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater as part of the White Light Festival. Mr. Ramirez is joined by Honji Wang, his partner in direction and choreography, as well as by three other appealing dancers of exceptional skill and suppleness, and the expert rigger Alister Mazzotti. Separately and together, they deliver astonishment after astonishment. But the show doesn’t cohere.
Structurally, it’s a string of sketches, each playing with a movement or costume idea. What if Ms. Wang and the other female dancer, Johanna Faye, did break dancing in four-inch heels? How would it change the shape of b-boy moves like spiraling on backs and shoulders if everyone wore stretchy skirts?
The wires are the strongest thread, tied to an exploration of gravity that continues even in the sections without the rigging. In one duet, Mr. Ramirez and Saïdo Lehlouh grip wrists and cantilever their weight so that Mr. Ramirez can do his spacewalking, stepping on air. The wires also hint at an idea that isn’t only physical, allowing the dancers to fly, to follow the dreamed-about implications of their movement, but also tethering them, sometimes dragging them backward seemingly against their will.
There are many such ideas in “Borderline,” pushed around and pulled aloft like the metal cubes of the set, which have something to do with the cages of identity. The electronic score by LACRYMOBOY includes spoken anecdotes, almost all in French. The printed program provides translations: One is a shaggy tale about abuse of power, another a rant about democracy as a lie. But neither understanding French nor reading the program helps much in connecting those stories to the one in English about “bad energies” or to the moodiness and aggression that keep popping up in the dance.
It’s not just that Ms. Wang and Mr. Ramirez don’t handle their ideas with as much control as they handle their bodies. The thematic material and the movement invention often pull in opposite directions so that neither is fully realized.
That’s frustrating, especially since the movement is so amazing. At the end of “Borderline,” Ms. Wang, attached to a wire, walks up the side of Mr. Ramirez. They embrace as lovers, but again and again, she soars skyward as if on gusts of wind. Like so much else in the show, she floats breathtakingly, right out of his grasp.