Created by Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young. A Kidd Pivot production, presented by DanceHouse. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Wednesday, February 20. Continues until February 23
At its world premiere in Vancouver last night, Kidd Pivot’s Revisor had enough electricity to blow out the substation down the street at Cathedral Square.
It helped that Crystal Pite—basically the hottest choreographer on the planet right now—had, along with her cocreator Jonathon Young, drawn out a hugely supportive hometown crowd. Adding to the excitement was a small army of European, Asian, and South American presenters, in town for the first Vancouver International Dance Showcase.
With all the attention came high expectations. Revisor is the first big, full-length followup to the hit Betroffenheit, created by Pite and theatre artist Young. Were those expectations met? Yes—and better yet, the hyperstylized creation was uncompromising in challenging those expectations, earning a loud, extended standing O.
First, to be clear, Revisor is not Betroffenheit—nor could it ever be, the latter being such a personal exploration of trauma and grief. But the new work continues Young and Pite’s play with language, and takes it to wildly complex new levels.
The show opens with a sort of warped pantomime of Nikolai Gogol’s classic 1836 satire The Inspector General (also known as The Government Inspector). Actors read Young’s adapted script over the sound system, while the dancers mouth the words and turn the physical language of farce into grotesquely exaggerated movement that falls somewhere close to Jim Carrey channelling Looney Tunes and Tim Burton–brand stop-motion. A pratfall becomes an extended, three-person tumble across the floor; a postmaster who regrets something he's just said tries maniacally to stuff his words back down his throat.
The set has all the requisite pieces for a farce—a door, a settee, a desk, a chandelier—but something is off, the action arch and unhinged.
Pite and Young have a ball playing with the tropes and archetypes of the form: the title character is a woman with a mustache, the mayor’s redheaded wife is a crazed cartoon of a ’30s-film sexpot.
The plot is basically about a low-level clerk (in this case, one whose job it is to revise legal texts) whom town officials mistake for a high-ranking inspector general. Soon the entire community is wining, dining, and bribing him with wads of cash.
But the plot becomes less and less important, as Pite and Young start warping what we’re watching, looping and repeating key words and moments to create something else entirely. The dancers switch their historical costumes for contemporary street clothes; flashes of light fork and melt across the back screen; a strobe catches dancer David Raymond under a bed, stuck in some kind of glitching limbo.
Physical comedy gives way to distress. Tiffany Tregarthen wrings huge emotion out of a solo to the repeated description “The subject is moved,” grasping her head in her arms over and over.
By stretching time, bending it, and abstracting the story, Pite and Young take us into a kind of alternate dimension—one so feverishly removed from reality, in fact, that not all the creatures are even human anymore.
So what on earth does it all mean? First and foremost, Pite and Young are taking the idea of revision to the nth degree. Much of Pite’s early work (Dark Matters and Lost Action) was about the role of the artist as creator, destroyer, and even detail-oriented revisor, and it's hard not to read the same ideas into what goes on here. Repeatedly in the abstract second half of Revisor, a narrator obsessively stops and changes her directions for what the figures on-stage are enacting. The action rewinds, and sometimes performer Matthew Peacock adjusts the dancers’ heads and positions, puppetlike.
But there are deeper existential questions posed by the looping script, as well—lines like “I am within this even as I contain this” recur with relentless rhythmic force. And the themes of corruption and deception ring true in the era of fake news.
It's all driven by a soundscape of text and haunting music that's a marvel as complex as it comes, by Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani, and Meg Roe.
For all the heavy intellect on display here, Revisor can be enjoyed purely on a visual and aural level. You can submit yourself to Jay Gower Taylor’s atmospheric sets, to the hallucinatory physical comedy by the performers, and the hypnotic effect of Pite’s torso-swirling, flickering movement. It’s a strange, fascinating trip no matter how you approach it—the kind where the electricity hangs in the air long after the curtain call.