Seven hours. Seven performers. Lots of knitting, and un-ravelling of that knitting. A red dress, and then red thread everywhere. Stories about one-celled animals. Talking about time, life and death. Lies that don’t have legs. Apples. Peeling apples. Putting apples into little jars and thinking. A lot. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. The news. Relationships and connections. Learning. Fine feathers make fine birds – I’m not sure about that. And is time really on our side?
If you’re a Northerner, you may have noticed Annika Kompart, calmly knitting in her arm chair in the foyer a couple of weeks ago. If you didn’t or you’re not, well she sat there for seven hours in an act of solidarity with us, the performers who she had asked to take part in her durational creation ‘The Last Knit’. This knitting marathon not only meant that Annika herself could experience taking some time out from time, but was also used as beautiful backdrop visuals for the performance itself.
Seven hours of performance is a daunting prospect for almost anyone I think. I have to admit, I had my fair share of reservations. The prospect of that amount of time in performance mode in a dark, windowless lighting studio did seem like punishment beforehand, even though she kept saying that that wasn’t what it was about! It was supposed to be nice; a place for us and the audience to take some time out and have a calm, low-key, and interesting experience.
However, in the days leading up to the performance I was just absolutely dreading it, particularly since I would always be in the space – never on the side lines having some ‘time out’ from performing, and for the most part, attached by the red thread of my dress to the performance area, almost like part of a sculpture. On the other hand, I’ve always liked a challenge, and have often said to Annika that I’d like to be part of something like this, so I asked for it really!
Despite my fear, I wanted to do it because I knew that I would learn something, and that’s what I’m after – I think learning new things makes life better (and I’m not just talking about training or academic learning, I mean all aspects of general life learning, surely that’s what it’s all about?) I really love yoga and walking and nature and all that meditative, calm stuff, so I thought I’d be pretty alright with doing this seven hour shindig.
OK, so I can hear a few of you thinking – sounds pretty boring to me! But really it’s just a different way of doing things. We’re so used to keeping ourselves busy, but sometimes it can be like running on a treadmill. You’re huffing and puffing but you’re not really getting anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with taking time out from time. In fact, like a lovely saying my Mum sent me said – ‘once she stopped rushing through life, she was amazed at how much more life she had time for’.
I try to remember this now, and sometimes succeed! I wasn’t always aware of this though. I was, and still am occasionally, a massive hectic stress head! For a long while I was often just filling time with the debris of life. I would do anything to avoid feeling bored, and was always flying from one thing to the next like a lunatic. For years, I worried I’d be like the guy in the book Shantaram, who was ‘interested in everything, committed to nothing’.
If it wasn’t festivals and adventure and new experiences or even burying my head in a book, I was always looking for the next thing but rarely appreciating what I had at that moment. I certainly couldn’t easily sit still and just do a simple task without feeling like I should be doing something else, something far more exciting and exotic!
Many times time was spent overdoing it by smoking too many fags and guzzling too much booze – like a line from one of my poems ‘leaving grape bruises on my insides’. Of course I’ve filled my life with plenty of productive stuff too, like writing poems, volunteering, snowboarding… even just some of that good old quality time with friends and family.
And even now that I’ve discovered and committed to this dancing life, which I love but is by nature, hectic, I still have to be careful to keep really living life, rather than simply filling time. I just know it makes you enjoy life more and you are nicer to be around, when you live more mindfully. I try to remember that ‘sometimes doing nothing leads to something’, like someone said in Gunila Heilborn’s piece last year.
We all need time to reflect and let things settle. Some things are so subtle they can’t be said or done or understood in an allotted time frame of one hour. What the hell are we rushing for anyway? I like to live a full life. I do a lot of things, have a lot of interests, and get a lot done, but I also know that my life and happiness can’t be measured by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ I do. That’s where the phrase ‘quality time’ comes from!
So for me, taking time out from time in ‘The Last Knit’ was a really liberating experience. I’ve been so busy lately, with auditions and projects and hardly a minute to sit still. Time is a man-made concept really, and with it, has all the flaws of humankind. We only know about time because we can think about it, and we only want more of it because we’re always bloody measuring everything. Even dreading the performance was as a result of this knowledge of time – if I didn’t know how to read a clock, would I give a shit about the seven hours? No. So let it go occasionally…
One of the most memorable moments for me came when I was peeling apples. I’d lost track of time completely in that moment. The apples represented a lot of things. My own quirk; an aversion to unpeeled apples (eating them makes me cringe but I know I should eat them, so I sometimes force myself to peel them and eat them, but most often I avoid them, because it’s a task that takes time). They also represented how everyone sees everything differently, demonstrated by all the crazy variation of apples that people drew during Annika’s knitting marathon. The one I liked most though, was the idea that they represented life.
When I was peeling them (not just the skin, but the whole bloody thing!) Annika asked me to think about the apple like it was life. I was peeling it, and then putting that life into little jars, like scientific specimens. Sometimes I’d rush through it, just trying to get it done. Other times I’d go slowly, relaxing, letting it happen. At times I was tired of it, my thumb was hurting or my hands were sticky and I wanted to chuck the stupid apple away. Most often though, I didn’t really mind it – I settled in to a relaxing time and wasn’t fighting it much, so I just simply peeled the apple. Each and every time, when I got to the core, I’d find myself taking extra care to scrape every last little bit of life out of that apple.
It was during one of these moments that my little epiphany happened. I was sat there, feeling thirsty, but not wanting to break the spell of the performance by asking for water, when Annika came over and asked me if I needed anything. The thought happened at almost the exact same time that she came to me, and I just had this weird sensation that everything is OK. When I needed something, someone would help me, but I was also perfectly capable of just being, all on my lonesome.
I think it made me realise that we don’t have to try so hard all the time; that all we have to do is just keep doing what we’re doing and learning and letting things unfold naturally. I’m not saying I’m going to stop going food shopping and expect people to bring me stuff! Just that during those seven hours I realised yet again, that if you let go, things sometimes happen. There it is again, ‘sometimes doing nothing (or less, at least) leads to something’. It sounds a bit like a Jennifer-Lynn class.
Looking back over the footage, there were times when I looked like I’d been through a bit of an ordeal. My make-up was smudged and I looked knackered. But then there were also times, even much later in the performance, when I looked fresh and really alive. These were times when I was engaged in something new and unexpected, the times when I was communicating with the other performers through long, winding improvisations where we developed our own language and played or explored together. The connections I made has refreshed me somehow!
It just goes to show that what you feel or think is reflected in your face. I mean, it actually changes how you look. We all know this from dance training. You might start a class or rehearsal looking and feeling crappy, a bit ill or just generally done in. You’re thinking ‘I can’t bloody move my leg one more time, just sod off’, and then somehow you get engaged in the act of dancing, and suddenly, time has passed and when you look in the mirror at the end – your cheeks are rosy, your eyes are bright and you don’t feel so bad after all.
The Last Knit is a hard piece to explain. It was a difficult piece to visualise before it actually happened. I just wasn’t really sure how it would come together. But Annika had the vision, and in the end, all the elements hung together perfectly. It was about a life. What is a life, what we learn, the connections we make, what it means to communicate with someone, what it means to be alone. Just what it means to be. A lot can happen in seven hours, even when it sometimes seems that not much is happening at all.
In the performance I went with it wholeheartedly, and found myself in a different mind state. By paying good quality attention and just being there, by the time it came for my 45 minute solo improvisation at the end (the thing I’d been so anxious about), I had more than enough to work with. There were so many lovely memories and echoes of sensations to work with, and so many connections made and stories developed during the improvised duets. In the end, I was alone, with all the mixed emotions that brings. From freedom and elation, all the way to boredom and frustration. But somehow I felt that I wasn’t really alone. I was not lonely in my hour spent alone. Everyone was still there with me in the space, even if only in my mind, and the things I had experienced with those people was now a part of me.
The whole space had been totally transformed, and the atmosphere was something special. I learnt a lot from The Last Knit – it was something so subtle and thought provoking; an experience I won’t forget… and in the end Annika was right, I was able to just have a really nice time…