NEW YORK — Cylinders of cloth that billow into the air, dancers whose warmth radiates from a communal whole, musicians who float across the stage on mobile platforms as Buddhist chants and contemporary dissonance hangs in the air: the ever-vibrant Sydney Dance Company from Australia has returned to the Joyce Theater for a run through Sunday afternoon.

Love, life and death are dominant motifs in "Air and Other Invisible Forces," the New York premiere of a work by Graeme Murphy that opened the troupe's season on Tuesday night. As usual, Murphy, the company's artistic director and choreographer, is strong on marrying the conceptual and the emotional. "Air" is both oblique and direct while resonant with allusions to Asia and the West.

East and West a mishmash can make, and the piece is uneven. But in the first half, the Australian composer and percussionist Michael Askill's score (using tape and live percussion) has superbly integrated onstage flute solos for Riley Lee, an American well known for his brilliance on the Japanese flute, or shakuhachi.

Death is never far from the surface of this work, and it seems no accident that the dancers appear first in white, the color of mourning in the East, and then in black, the color of mourning in the West. In between, Akira Isogawa's Indian-style costumes also feature a touch of saffron, the color of transformation.

Life must balance death, and a sense of immediacy is the virtue of Murphy's plotless piece. Images of loss are dropped into the choreography like pebbles in a pond with a radiating effect. Lovers part and reach to each other or are separated by barriers of filmy fabric. The poetically conventional requires no effort from Murphy.

Nonetheless it is his nerve that impresses: at the end there is a literal image of descent. A dancer, Sally Wicks, climbs up the backs of other performers and plunges downward, her head stopped from hitting the ground by another dancer.

Reaching heavenward but falling to earth: The story of mankind's mortality and imperfection is older than Lucifer's. But Murphy is not interested in literary or historical imagery here. To call "Air and Other Invisible Forces" abstract choreography is to suggest it has no overt narrative. Its true abstraction lies in its distillation of emotion, evoked in a stream of incidents and encounters onstage.

The movement in "Air," especially in the first section, deliberately stays away from recognizable modern-dance idioms. The emphasis is on the natural, as in the first male solo, with Simon Turner giving shrewd form to the apparent formless.

On the other hand, Bradley Chatfield's ballet virtuosity shines through this natural style, and he is given the occasional pirouette.

The second half of the piece is danced to a tape of "Mourned by the Wind," by the contemporary Georgian composer Giya Kancheli. Kancheli has described the composition as a liturgy and its alternating lyricism and turbulence suggest grief and anger.

The link between the two different sections is Janet Vernon, timeless in black tights as mourner and guide to an ensemble that rolls out from Gerard Manion's mini-Himalayas. His peaks of white cloth are later revealed to be wire sculpture. Detail needs to be seen. Lovers express tenderness by walking their fingers on the floor, a dialogue that Xue-Jun Wang and Wakako Asano render symbolic before they are parted in the second half.

There is a great deal of athletic movement for the men amid various trios and solos. The gem is an exhilarating love duet, studded with thrusts and parries for Katherine Griffiths and Turner under an arch of white silk blown into the air: a Chinese ribbon dance shaped by a wind machine.