The paradox at the heart of Finnish choreographer Maija Hirvanen’s For those who have time – that the manic pace of contemporary life has both a unifying and isolating effect on Western society – is a pertinent one in the age of the smartphone. Does texting and tweeting and Snapchatting our friends deepen our relationships or render them more detached? Do Blackberrys and their round-the-clock email access represent flexibility or obligation? Does Facebook bring people together or drive them apart?
Hirvanen’s piece cannily addresses such questions with vignettes that at first appear inaccessible but are revealed to contain little granules of relatability. A beautiful woman (Hanna Ahti) trembles at her self-proclaimed fear “of death and other things.” A frenzied man (Andrius Katinas) tells us he finds films a waste of time. A guy with a guitar (Olli Kontulainen) bats away balloons and engages in word association, shouting “black,” “fear,” “nothing.” In each scene the performer’s esoteric visage is intended to push us away while their crisis draws us in, prompting us in turn to question whether we’re wasting our own time watching a performance that spends half its time deliberately alienating us. It’s a clever construct, though an ultimately dissatisfying one – not only are we required to sit through said alienation, but the scenes vary greatly in their effectiveness, resulting in more head-scratching moments than resonant ones.
Katinas’s segment is the only one that does justice to Hirvanen’s conceit. In a stilted voice and staccato, distorted sequence of steps (which simultaneously calls to mind a malfunctioning robot and the dancing dwarf fromTwin Peaks), Katinas delivers a monologue listing everyday activities he has no time for. It’s unclear whether he’s lamenting or championing his harried life: there’s definitely a boastful edge to his claim that he injects nutrients rather than bothering to eat (“I don’t have time to swallow”), but he delivers the final point on his list – “I don’t have time to dance” – with an air of regret, abandoning his robotic jig and departing abruptly. In any case, it’s difficult to ignore his plight, despite his bizarre delivery and the absurdity of his claims – a testament to the universality underpinning it.
The other two characters, meanwhile, inspire less sympathy. Ahti’s segment is five minutes of convulsions and cryptic utterances like “acid rain” and “worst case scenario.” Later in the performance she mourns a lost love, but it’s not until Hirvanen reveals in the post-show discussion that Ahti’s spasms are meant to represent “her nervous system reacting to the distress of her busy life” that it’s apparent how she figures into the broader concept. Likewise, Kontulainen’s solo, in which he waves around his guitar and shouts random words, remains incomprehensible beyond its function as a time-filler before the final movement, a musical number about not being in control, dedicated “to those who have time.”
For those who have time isn’t without its hints of humour – Katinas’s declaration that instead of wasting time going to the toilet he simply uses diapers springs to mind – but these are vastly outnumbered by moments that smack of self-importance and a desperate desire to appear profound, like Ahti spraypainting an outline of her hand on Kontulainen’s stomach, or the spending five minutes trio whacking balloons into the audience. In the end, such ambiguity does little but distract from the central premise – a shame as it’s a promising one.