How the Land Lies

Laura Cemina & Bianca Hisse

As Laura Cemin and Bianca Hisses’s temperamentally cool collaboration commences, a handful of casually-clad people are methodically coiling orange, red and black electrical cords. The activity is reasonably intriguing, and about as ambiguous as the piece’s title, but it’s also misleading. The key props in this dispassionate study of migration, displacement and the language of in- and exclusion are actually a trio of oblong LED signboards. Slogans and questions stream across the bright, coloured surfaces, although little if any of the content sticks.

The same applies to the work as a whole, which with its clean lines, functional physicality and generic soundtrack of hums, burbles and beats, feels curiously neutral, clever but characterless, void. The five sober-faced cast members have an intimate relationship with the signboards – carrying, laying down beside, propping up or revolving with them. Crossing human kinetics with visual art, this is dance as commentary, consideration or oblique socio-cultural critique, but as a vehicle for ideas it doesn’t go very far.

Donald Hutera

In a highly-lit space four women and one men are rolling up black, orange and red cables with an undulating rhythm. They may be searching for their roots through these wires. or the connections between themselves and the world in which they live. Choreographed by Bianca Hisse and Laura Cemin, How the Land Lies explores the problems of migration in a slightly superficial way. The dancers’ movements are minimal, allowing the focus to be on longitudinal LED panels constantly running texts which help summarise some of the main questions posed by the performance. The people onstage are drawn to these LEDs, sometimes leaning against, hiding beneath or making contact with them – as if seeking shelter.

Such moments evoke migration-related images that have been common in the media in recent years. The work, however, doesn’t probe deeply into the complex issues at its core. The focus is on text which, due to its length and form, only scratches the surface when raising topics such as the difficulties of learning a new language or finding a job. The subject matter grabs our attention, but the cast’s aloof expressions and non-comittal actions prevent our involvement.

Zsófia Bálint

Ironically, seeing How the Land Lies isn’t very enlightening. Five performers start out slowly wrapping around their arms miles of red, orange and black extension cables scattered onstage. This seemingly endless introduction somehow leads them to bring onstage three LED scrolling signs broadcasting short written sentences. At first the signs operate like intriguing captions to the dancers’ connection to the panels. Materialised as both bridges and fences, the commanding messages appearing on screen are literally carried by the human bodies.

But even when activist slogans and standard form questions randomly worm their way into the scrolling, Laura Cemin and Biance Hisse’s attempt at tackling migration issues feels remote. In the end the blinding, aggressively red LEDs pointing towards us make it nearly impossible not to look away. If we were supposed to be reading the signs, it feels like they got lost in translation. Alas, this performance isn’t going anywhere.

Callysta Croizer

Red, orange and black cables dispersed across the stage are being coiled up and put aside with intense and delicate care. Their trails remind me of the borders that scar the earth’s surface. But what follows their disposal is no cathartic release. Instead, five cool-faced performers crawl, slide, pivot, chase, hide and sleep behind three LED scrolling signs displaying texts relating to migrant experience. The signs offer definitions, afterwards questioned by being positioned next to other, varying LED texts or to bodies, creating thought-provoking and conflicting combinations. In one of the most arresting images the sentences enlarge till they fill up the boards and radiate an alarming redness, cloaking the surrounding performers in complete black.

I can conjecture what co-choreographers Laura Cemina and Bianca Hisse were going for, but neither the detached performance nor the literary quality of the language were strong enough to break these migrants free from the dehumanised identity of statitics. How the Land Lies provides a fertile concept, but a withered yield.

Djalil Sultani