Just as globalisation has homogenised urban culture, contemporary dance has swept across the world, uniting dance artists in a common voice of expression. Yet despite being commendably performed, three of the four works featured on the Southeast Asian Highlights programme at M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival on Wednesday are frustratingly sapless, awash with prosaic tropes and tired cliches.
The evening's one exception and only bright spot is the heartwarming excerpt from Filipino choreographic duo Mia Cabalfin and Rhosam Prudenciado Jr's Housewarming. Originally a full-length piece performed in a machiya, a traditional Japanese townhouse, Housewarming juxtaposes the irrepressible warmth of the Philippines with the courteous restraint of Japan. The pair enters the theatre, scattering peso coins on the ground and distributing candles to members of the audience before kneeling in seiza, a formal Japanese way of sitting.
Dancing with their hearts on their sleeves, Cabalfin and Prudenciado Jr undergo an evolution as they switch roles and question tradition. On a projection of a seemingly never-ending zebra crossing, they journey in romance and faith. The dominant male puts on the female's dress, but he struggles, caught in a frozen corkscrew. Cabalfin then scrubs the floor with her dress - the workaday task ingrained in her second skin. As they blanket the stage in darkness by blowing out a candle, the duo concludes a sharply distilled segment of a piece which begs to be seen in its entirety.
The quadruple bill includes two world premieres - A Doodle of Impressions by Singaporean Chiew Peishan and Taiwanese Liu Wen-Chun, and i to i by Thai choreographer and dancer Aditep Buanoi.
The former, a coolly composed exploration of the subconscious, seeks to bring the two-dimensional to terpsichorean life. The whimsical act of doodling is fodder for the piece, which seems too purposefully erratic in its volatile groupings of dancers and deadpan yet cheeky movements. After some time, a linear predictably sets in - lines join to make shapes, snapshots are stills from a larger movement phrase and A Doodle of Impressions tapers off without much spark.
Buanoi's offering is detached, both in its subject and in performance. The oft-explored theme of the loss of human connection is writ large in the piece's opening moments as Naporn Wattanakasaem dances a solo emphatically punctuated by moments of stillness to the sound effects from a mobile phone keyboard. Buanoi joins her on stage in brief snatches of duets involving some stunning instances of reliance and support. However, these form an odd dissonance to the dancers' removed personas and when they do meet face to face at the end, it is awkward instead of liberating.
The beautifully lithe Malaysian Suhaili Micheline closes the evening with her solo, Serendipity. Giving herself to the possibility of happy accidents, she creates a framework within which she improvises.
Following a brief sequence in which Micheline is seated on the ground undulating her arms, dancers from the other three pieces walk on stage in a cleverly disarming move. They drink water, pull hoodies over each other's heads and race teasingly across the stage while Micheline launches into a slow-motion run with clenched fists and flexed feet. Improvised, the rest of the work is comprised of variations on this theme. Pirouettes, turned out feet and an underlying elegance reveal years of ballet training. As Stephan Grytsay's "Broken" Quartet grows increasingly frantic, Micheline pulsates until she leaps off stage in sync with its final grim chord.
The piece ends almost too neatly, giving the impression that it might have been a stroke of serendipity for Micheline, but a calculated coincidence to the audience.