A man played a set of Tibetan bowls while seated atop a ginormous floor pillow as guests filed in for “Sleeptalk,” an evening length dance by Ashley Fargnoli that ended its run at Links Hall Jan. 15. Complemented by a psychedelic screen saver casting red, blue and green beams onto the white space’s back wall, the scene elicits a meditative feel despite the somewhat frantic push to get in the door and find a place to sit.
It reminded me of the end of a yoga class: that state that is somewhere between sleeping and waking. A state of consciousness that is simultaneously alert and dulled, and accomplishing this is the obvious point of “Sleeptalk.” Fargnoli, inspired by the subconscious, worked abroad as a trauma therapist, and this personal movement investigation delves into her curiosity about the things she said in her sleep while working with refugees from war-torn countries.
There’s no direct reference to any of that, though, and like most dreams, “Sleeptalk” puts forward a muted and not altogether sensical world. The musician, Joshua Convey, moves off to the side to continue creating a meditative drone as a quartet of women (Fargnoli with Julie Brannen, Monica Carrow and Wei-Chiung (Coco) Chen-Martinez) enter and sprawl out in the space, as if asleep.
Before they move, projections of two dancers from the neck up emerge on the wall, with green or blue hues over their faces, eyes closed. They nod off, gently bobbing as though falling asleep in a college lecture. The video, created by Shawn Convey, abruptly cuts in and out, supplementing the dreamy, otherwise slow-motion world throughout the dance’s duration. The four women wear beautiful green halter dresses, sleeping on their stomachs, and then startle awake, shifting restlessly, but softly.
The basic structure of “Sleeptalk” is anchored by its solos, and each dancer gets ample time for her own cadenza. It’s uncomfortably quiet as Julie Brannen goes first. In this rare silent moment at Links Hall, I could hear the stroke of my pen, and an inevitable tickle rise up in my throat. Brannen shivered, exalted two hands to the ceiling, then glided into a glorious series of spirals.
Each dancer takes her turn, taking a slightly different tone, and breaking for duets and trios bookending each solo. The mattress is the fifth player onstage, traveling across the space and sometimes tipping on its side, or being used as a spring board as three sprites bounce off the big pillow while one dancer sleeps. It’s a refreshing moment of child’s play in an otherwise super serious dance.
In moments toward the end of the piece, the sound score alludes to its inspiration a little more directly as we hear indistinguishable gibberish and phrases in French, but it’s a road that leads to nowhere; a dance is meant to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and for me, this was all middle. The lights turned off against a backdrop of four dancers spinning on their bottoms, and I walked away feeling that this was a beautiful, somewhat mystical party to which I’m not invited. Maybe that’s ok. Sleep is a personal practice and unpacking the subconscious through dance is no easy task.