Great expectations attend any premiere by Crystal Pite, the Vancouver choreographer who is widely celebrated in Canada, Europe, and the United States. Revisor’s four February shows at the Vancouver Playhouse were sold out months in advance—unheard of in this city’s contemporary dance scene. As it turns out, Revisor—another fine piece that employs tumultuous bodies to create emotional resonance—delivers.
Co-created with Electric Company Theatre’s Jonathon Young (the pair previously worked together on the critically acclaimed Betroffenheit), Revisor was inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s farce, The Inspector General, in which a lowly civil servant is mistaken for a powerful inspector. Young’s version features flights of wordplay and melodramatic asides to the audience as characters reveal their motives and misunderstandings. This story of bumbling officials, their corrupt wheeling, dealing, and greedy grovelling, is hilarious.
Eccentric characters are presented in a double whammy of voice and movement. There are recorded voice-overs by nine actors who clearly relish their text, including the Director’s unctuous baritone, at times like poisoned honey, his wife’s giddy laughter, and an array of accents and registers that create a symphony of voices, each one paired with a dancer. In epic physical expression, the dancers march and lunge, posture and gesture, tightly orchestrated with the words. The dance is not subtext but “supertext,” revealing the self-serving inner urges and desires of the characters.
Pite has incorporated some degree of story in many of her works. Not so much for the big ballet commissions—from London’s Royal Ballet, Opéra national de Paris, The National Ballet of Canada— but certainly for her own company, Kidd Pivot, founded in 2002. Under that umbrella, she has frequently explored the relationship between dance and text, a pursuit that culminates in Revisor’s full body syncing.
A stripped-down middle section veers off to take us inside the creative process. The recorded refrain, “I would like to make one small revision,” becomes a chant for a restless hunkering ensemble dance, which comes together and breaks apart in the emotive fashion Pite does so well. If it doesn’t quite propel the story, this more abstract part provides a break from the synchronicity, and allows the dancers behind the characters to be revealed.
Tiffany Tregarthen, in the title role of the Revisor (voiced by Young), a dandy who drinks too much and revises legal documents for a living, emerges from behind a beard and some brilliantly spineless body language. There’s also a wonderful witchy solo, when dancer Ella Rothschild strips herself of the layers of old-woman costuming and cartoonish mannerisms she has been employing as Minister De Souza, and skips and skitters around the stage as Jay Gower Taylor’s light paintings flash across the backdrop.
It is in moments like these—as always in Pite’s thoughtful work—where beauty slips in.
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