Review By Lisa Lanzi
Crystal Pite has stated that the style of choreography she favours is a hybrid mix of dance and theatre, technique and expression, assembled with a delicious sense of wit and originality: “It’s something I aspire to, to hold that kind of rigour and recklessness in balance.” Based on Nikolai Gogol’s satirical 1836 play, The Government Inspector and first performed in 2019, Revisor is amongst the best and one of the most authentic Dance-Theatre works I have witnessed.
Like Kurt Jooss (1901 –1979; eg: The Green Table) Pite prefers to work with thought provoking narrative themes and here, her collaborator Jonathon Young (award-wining Playwright in Residence at Kidd Pivot) is creator of the text that weaves through and atop the extraordinary sound score. Jooss is regarded as the progenitor of Tanztheater where dance and music (and design) evolve together to give expression to a dramatic idea with unified style and form. Taking shape from thematic ideas of corruption, ineptitude, political chicanery, and morally deficient bureaucracies, to name a few, Revisor possesses layers of complexity that Gogol’s play could never aspire to.
In the first and third sections of Revisor, dancers perform Pite’s choreography while simultaneously ‘lip syncing’ to pre-recorded, spoken text, a device I would normally have no truck with. In this case, as the narrative unfolds in linear fashion, it adds layers of absurdity to the already heightened physicalized and costumed theatricality. The spoken word soundtrack is of exceptionally high quality and exquisitely voiced by professional actors, including Young. There is footage from within the rehearsal process where dancers sport over-ear headphones as they perfect both demanding choreography in conjunction with the mouthing of text; a difficult undertaking no doubt and adding yet another layer of coordination to the performers’ responsibilities. The undeniable fact is that the often exaggerated lip syncing aligns perfectly with the whole concept and I’m in awe of the prowess involved.
In this company of utterly astonishing dancers, their flawless technique is never in question but the artistry is such that expression and spell, focus and commitment cause the execution of difficult choreography to appear effortless. And Pite’s work is technically demanding. Originally a ballerina, her distinguished career included working with her mentor William Forsythe at Ballett Frankfurt and though the lineage is clear, Pite’s choreography is distinctly her own; though she does credit the dancers for their generous contributions in the rehearsal room. As well as founding Kidd Pivot in 2002, Ms Pite has produced works for prominent companies such as The Royal Ballet, The Paris Opera Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater I, Cullberg Ballet, Ballett Frankfurt, The National Ballet of Canada, Ballets Jazz Montréal (resident choreographer 2001–04), and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. She has also collaborated with Electric Company Theatre and Robert Lepage, and is currently Associate Choreographer at Nederlands Dans Theater. She has said that she began choreographing because explorations she craved as a dancer weren’t being met.
In Revisor, the choreography is both text and character driven, essentially contemporary with classical influences and other genres creeping in as ‘punctuation’ for expressive reasons. As a dancer in character mouths text their idiosyncratic movements reflect the essential expression of that persona. Dancers move a little like puppets with an air of buffoonery - a little like the unseen political ‘gods’ are manipulating the proceedings. Movement is grounded or elevated, grotesque or tender, as directed by the situation. Thrilling, close contact partner work and lifts are a feature between two or more performers, or the entire ensemble, creating flowing sequences where tableaux are created, broken apart, and flow back together again. These seamless, cascading progressions look as if the dancers barely exert effort - I promise you they do!. Rather it appears the environment, the circumstances, the text, the music or even lighting are magically causing these happenings. Blink and you’ll miss a beautifully designed transition. Another aspect of the choreography is fluidity, in terms of what is possible for these dancers to accomplish with their bodies. Even when the movements are somewhat robotic, flow is obvious and inherent to the connection each performer has to character, action and objective. Every part of the body, down to fingertips, a head tilt, or angle of a foot is designed in thoughtful detail.
In the central section, reality is shifted to a dreamlike state, or perhaps the subconscious realm. Instead of outlandish character costumes as in parts 1 and 3, the dancers appear in relaxed, casual contemporary attire. The set is mostly done away with and the voiceover becomes more abstract. Words and phrases are lifted from the first section and manipulated through repetition and aural modifications. Here the layers of Alessandro Juliani’s and Owen Belton’s extraordinary compositions and sound designs can be further appreciated, as can the artistry of the lighting design by Tom Visser. The movement and text is a ‘replay’ of the first scene but with nightmarish tweaking. Jay Gower Taylor is responsible for the captivating scenic and reflective light concepts which flicker and shift on the backdrop a little like muscles and neurons firing as the performers ‘speak’, think, and move; the created patterns also reminded me of the ‘air pictures’ we might make as children, waving and whooshing sparklers in the night.
Words cannot really do justice to what I witnessed in the theatre, nor the thoughts and potent images that have remained alive for me. Revisor was one of the highlights for me this Festival, amongst a number of very moving works, and I am glad of this chance to textually unpack my impressions… though I could write so much more.
Pite named her Canadian company to capture her fundamental aims as a choreographer. ‘Kidd’ for the allusion to boxers, their ‘outlaw’ status, their irreverent approach to working, and for the fun of it. ‘Pivot’ because it is a skill dancers have; it has “edge, shape, clarity, precision, integrity, and (is a movement that) sits at the edge of one’s ability to sustain …”. She values tension and energy: “Conflict is fascinating to me, the tension of opposing ideas and forces is like an engine when I’m making a work, it creates so much physical excitement and energy.”
All of this and more is evident in Revisor, a true dance-theatre creation where all elements intertwine, drive, and enhance the whole, seamlessly. Pite quoted a proverb in an interview with The Guardian in 2016: “… ‘if you talk to a man about himself, he will listen for hours’, and I think that’s key. If people feel represented onstage, they’re going to be leaning in.”
I leaned in. Fully.