In "Water Water," the final offering by the New York-based Muna Tseng Dance Projects at the Dance Place last night, East met West in an odd and fascinating assortment of ways. The total effect included elements of a tea ceremony, acrobatics, gamesmanship, childhood fantasy and Western avant-garde minimalism. Like all of the program, it was often mesmerizing to watch, but in the end it seemed mostly a matter of exquisitely wrought surfaces, as pretty -- and as shallow -- as a delicate porcelain glaze.
The six dancers of "Water Water," in midnight-blue mandarin-style jackets and trousers, held glass tumblers in their hands, partially filled with water. With one hand they poured, with the other they received the pourings of their partners. They clinked in rhythmical toasts; they crossed arms and re-poured; they balanced a tumbler on one shoulder and poured again; they blew soap bubbles; they formed moving arrays, and, at last, they drank a long slow draught, raising arms and exclaiming, "Ah!"
All this was accompanied by composer Mike Vargas at a shelf stacked with crystal goblets, making their rims sing or striking them with rods, xylophone-style. At one end, "Water Water" resembled those "precision ball-passing" pieces by American post-modernist Charles Moulton; at the other, the exotic dance-theater rituals that Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn first appropriated from the Orient in the early years of this century.
Hong Kong-born choreographer Tseng was much influenced both by the arts tradition of her Chinese background, and the teaching of Martha Graham disciple Jean Erdman, herself devoted to Eastern modes. Earlier in the program, Tseng -- a superlatively deft dancer -- performed Erdman's 1942 solo, "The Transformations of Medusa," a stark percussive frieze in the manner of bedrock modern dance. Additional Tseng pieces included "Dance for Music," an abstract trio; "What's the Rush," an anti-Machine Age solo with film imagery; and an opening pair of solos, "Bach #1 & #2," merging -- like all the rest -- idioms from opposite sides of the globe.