Revisor is the latest work from the Olivier Award-winning duo of choreographer Crystal Pite and theatre artist Jonathan Young.
DanceHouse presents Kidd Pivot Revisor
When: Feb. 20 to 23, 8 p.m.
Where: Vancouver Playhouse
Tickets and info: Sold out
Kidd Pivot artistic director Crystal Pite and Electric Company Theatre Co-founder Jonathan Young produced an international hit with Betroffenheit. The dance/theatre hybrid that came out of the two acclaimed artists’ collaboration went on to win a 2015 Olivier Award, selling out everywhere it toured.
At the time, it was Pite’s second Olivier win. She added another in 2018 for her piece Flight Pattern created for the Royal Ballet.
Pite and Young return with Revisor in 2019. The work was inspired by Young’s reading about Russian theatre iconoclast Vsevolod Meyerhold’s 1926 non-realist production of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 political comedy of errors Revisor. Known in English as the Government Inspector, the tale of a case of mistaken identity in a podunk Russian town which braces for the arrival of an incognito government corruption inspector, sends up cronyism, the state and society as a whole. The story will certainly connect viscerally with the audience as it addresses the world today.
Both artists felt that something funny and political would be best for the next piece.
“Jonathan brought the idea of bringing the inspector general into it, and the farce that exists in our show is an adaptation of the play which forms about half of our show, and the other half is a kind of inspection of the farce,” said Pite. “Something looking at corruption and deception seemed more than timely, given the state of the world.”
Young and Pite have reworked the story into another hybrid production of choreography and script brought to life by eight dancers with voice recordings. Young says that the chemistry between the two creators is a result of similar interests.
“Crystal and I first worked together with the Electric Company when she did choreography for Studies In Motion and the film The Score and we knew each other well, and that we both had an interest in how you could unite the figures of language (the text) and the body (the dance),” said Young. “We are both interested in experiments around what happens when you take the primacy of the text and push it to the background, or separate it from the performer, and what happens with the space that opens up and how you can fill it with movement.”
Betroffenheit was a very personal and intense piece. It was inspired by the unspeakable tragedy of Young losing his daughter, niece and nephew in a cabin fire on a 2009 family holiday. Revisor is a very different vehicle, one that Pite says is the welcome result of how the creation of Betroffenheit opened up new doors for both artists’ work. Young freely admits, and Pite glowingly supports, that he is a far better dancer than ever before since appearing in the show. Pite thinks that she is still learning the process of “tinkering with words” and moving to them.
“Story ballets tell quite simple stories that most people are familiar with yet still they rely on elements of mime and repetition to get their messages across — “you will prick your finger and die, that sort of thing,”” said Pite. “I never wanted choreography to get in the way of telling complex stories in contemporary dance, which by its nature has been mostly non-narrative and abstract and pushed against those things. Using text has added a dimension to the work that I really enjoy.”
Another aspect of developing a new language of theatre and dance is that there is a third element coming out of the process. The importance of the sound design in these new works almost becomes a whole new play. Betroffenheit’s team of composers/sound designers Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe are back for Revisor and Pite says it’s key to the new production, often blurring the lines of division between genres further.
“The voice-over recording of nine local actors we did has turned into kind of radio play and the text we are pulling out of that farce is getting abstracted as we pair it with movement,” she said. “It parallels what is happening to the movement which also goes through a process of being abstracted from the physical language of the farce into something much more abstract. It really makes the performance so alive.”
Bodies moving to recorded voices is nothing new.
What makes Pite and Young’s creations different is how they take the recorded text and blend it with the choreography to produce something set, like a musical score, which you can’t tinker with the same way you would a new play. There is an element of artistic push-and-pull that takes place and may very well explain the conflict that is a feature of the performances.
“With a play, you can tinker with the text once you come into the room and you do, but we did the recordings in December and July and they are set like a score,” he said. “A whole side of the performance is set according to how these actors came to the text with their certain cadences and so on. Then the dancers come to it totally fresh having to invent the physical world and you get this dynamic situation of infinite possibilities colliding with this concrete information that is brought by the text.”
Both artists agree that they went in a different, lighter direction for Revisor than they had done with Betroffenheit. But the nature of the farce includes power, corruption and cruelty. You can be certain that the comic energy will come with its fair share of wincing.