Dance review: Some sparks, but no fire in finale of contemporary dance festival

Alejandro Moya and Arthur Bernard Bazin in Hasta Donde...? choreographed by Sharon Fridman. -- PHOTO: BERNIE NG
Alejandro Moya and Arthur Bernard Bazin in Hasta Donde...? choreographed by Sharon Fridman. -- PHOTO: BERNIE NG
Shintaro Oue (top) and Piotr Giro in BO.LE.RO choreographed by Shintaro Oue. -- PHOTO: BERNIE NG
Shintaro Oue (top) and Piotr Giro in BO.LE.RO choreographed by Shintaro Oue. -- PHOTO: BERNIE NG

Small casts of dancers make a large impact in the International Artist Festival Finale, drawing this year's M1 Contact Contemporary Dance Festival to a close. Composed of four engaging, diverse pieces, the intimate showcase by an array of international dance artists at the Esplanade Theatre Studio stops short of taking one's breath away. The parts of this puzzle regrettably do not quite come together to elevate the mixed bill beyond the aesthetic to the visceral, past the mind to the heart. 

Tung I-Fen's How To Say... is ambitious and unpretentiously simple. Exploring the cyclical relationship between language and expression, the work oscillates between purposeful playfulness and ambiguity. Effortless movers, Tung and Daniel Wang exchange easy glances as they glide through a physical repartee of turns, shifts and microphone stand-dominoes. There is a stunning moment of tenderness when Wang, dictating Tung's movement, weaves his words into a love letter. Whispering, he recounts the way they cuddle, her hand on his back. But this is short-lived as How To Say... seems to move impatiently on. The piece sparks, but does not burn.

On a projection, dancing embers light up the stage in Miwa Okuno's Highlight Of Decline. A palpable despair permeates the solo, as Okuno repeatedly flings herself into deep backbends and lunges. Knock-kneed with elbows angularly placed, she resembles a marionette held up by the strings of natural decay. Various body parts take on a life of their own, triggering physical consequences which display a beautiful bodily logic. The piece courses towards a grim finality against the unrelenting chugging of its soundtrack, with its quaking isolations eating away at Okuno, and wearing the audience down.

With its laugh-out-loud humour painted in broad strokes, BO.LE.RO by Shintaro Oue is akin to the programme's comical interlude.  The piece's explosive partnering is accompanied by a symphony of pants, grunts and sighs and at times, sounds like a intense wrestling battle. This is contact improvisation as mischievous banter, and the duo of Oue and Piotr Giro mines the hilarity of awkwardness. A misplaced hand, tangled limbs, a pant leg that is out of place - BO.LE.RO accumulates its merriment, just like escalating orchestration of Ravel's eponymous composition. 

Concluding the mixed bill is Sharon Fridman's duet, performed by Arthur Bernard Bazin and Alejandro Moya. Hasta Donde...? is peppered with evocative portraits of dependence, trust and generosity. The dancers are incredibly athletic, but the incredibility of this duet lies in its non-spectacle.

Performed with slack-jawed tranquillity, Hasta Donde...? is doubtlessly underscored by strength, but has fluidity at its forefront. The men are in constant motion as they rise, fall and envelop each other in a close embrace. When they finally break apart, the stage is plunged into darkness and the piece ends without much release or revelation.