March 24, 2016

A final note from the rehearsal room

I remember having a conversation with Richard (the director) last summer, where he talked about where the original idea for Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. had come from. For him, it had started to form two years earlier whilst on holiday in Ireland, on a run by the sea in West Cork. As he was running he realised that “for the first time in a long time” he was aware only of that moment, of that very experience. The words he used to describe it were something like: “I was conscious of my own presence in the present”. I write this rehearsal note sat cross-legged on the floor, slightly to the front of where the seating bank will be. It is the dress rehearsal for Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring., and the first time all four parts of the quartet have been run back to back. The space is in near darkness. Summer. is over (it always seems to pass too quickly) and we’re nearing the transition between Autumn. and Winter. In the performance space, a technician pushes a brush across the dance floor to catch the debris from the previous events, moving in distinct lines from one side to the other, periodically tapping the bristles against the floor to shake off the excess dust. It is only when he comes to a pause that I realise I have been completely absorbed in the constancy of this action. As he stops sweeping, my presence in the moment fragments once again and I return to writing in my notebook, to checking my phone, to thinking about when I might stop to eat dinner… 

After three years of planning, and six weeks of intense rehearsal, we are nearing the end of the process for Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring. (though it feels redundant to create a clear division between the process of making these works and the performance of them, which is in many ways an extension of the process – the works will be different every time, changed by new instructions, new questions and new answers, and by the energy of the performers and the presence of the people who are watching). What started as an idea on a run by the sea has grown into something huge and extraordinary – three performances and a film, all featuring people at different points in their lives. The youngest performers are not yet fully formed (though we can imagine the kinds of people they might become from the shape of their face in profile on an ultrasound scan, or from accounts of the behavioural traits that have been passed down on either side of their family). The oldest performers are in their seventies and eighties, able to tell stories from times very different to the ones we live in now. In the rehearsal room these last six weeks I have become increasingly aware that our relationship with time shapes so much of who we are and what we do. Some measure of time is the first thing that most of us will engage with in the morning (today the clock read 8.49am when I eventually got out of bed, the alarm on my partner’s phone had sounded twice and I knew it was really time to get up because the sound of running water in the bathroom had stopped, signaling that Ben was already out of the shower), and it is often the last thing we engage with before we go to sleep again at night (“It’s later than I thought, we should really head to bed now if we want to get enough rest”). 

The title of the quartet, Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring., perhaps suggests something chronological – and it is, but only in the sense that it is four events that happen one after another. The work itself very much plays with time – shifting from the past, to a lively and playful presence in the present, to the future, and then back again. The making of the work has been about spending time together, groups of people in a room talking, eating, asking and answering questions, following instructions, copying a dance warm up, and enjoying the permission to play. In rehearsals, time has been everything from the mundane parts of an everyday routine (“Every morning, I get up, I come downstairs, I make myself a cup of coffee, I put on the radio, and I stare out the window into the garden”); to the hazy shape of distant memories (“I do remember but maybe only because I have a photograph”); to the journey from home to the studio (“It took longer than usual today. I think there might be a show on at the MEN”); to something that is running out (“you take for granted there’s next summer”): to a source of empty pleasure and fun (“we push back the carpet and we dance together into the early hours”); to a space for reflection (“If I could change something I’d think less and do more”); to a marker of things still to come (“I’m due in less than a month”); to something entirely unknown (“I’ve never thought about that, I can’t even imagine it yet”). 

The full quartet, including Autumn. premiered on Saturday 26th and will be performed again twice this weekend. Just as in rehearsals, each performance will be about a group of people, in a room together, sharing time (empty time, leisure time, lost time, reflective time, squeezed in time, imagined time, social time, thinking time, play time, precious time). I hope to see you there.

– by Sarah Hunter

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