It is rare these days to see genuinely new forms dance, or performances that are truly original or have the power to move, create a sense of awe or a feeling of wonder. This makes Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young’s Revisor a privilege as we witness the emergence of a dance form that is so new that it hasn’t yet been properly classified or defined.
The Pite/Young creation is part play/narrated dance/choreographic spoken word/dialogue expressed through physical movements/dance that creates the dialogue – that’s why it is hard to name!
This new dance language is an entirely new way of experiencing the effect of dance on language, and language on dance. The only way I can describe Revisor is to imagine a play where the actors dance the words and physically express their emotion as an added layer to tell/demonstrate the story. This effect is so impressive and impactful that I almost don’t want to try to describe it, I want people to experience it, to see how a writer and a choreographer have combined these two elements to create a new experience that brought the audience to their feet for a rapturous and long standing ovation that is rarely seen these days.
Pite/Young have taken a comic play (a ‘farce’ written by Nikolai Gogol in 1836) that you don’t need to know to understand what’s going on stage. There’s a cast of actors, a script, an onimpresent narrator, there’s complex choreography, there’s a story; but that’s where what you think you might know, ends. And in fact, as we move through each of the distinct three parts (technically there’s 5 acts) of the dance play, you realise that the ‘play’ you thought you were seeing, is in fact something completely different, for there are layers upon layers of meaning and a middle section – which Pite/Young call the ‘deconstruction’ – that literally strips the actors of their character, their costumes and the dance that expressed the words is turned almost inside out and the words become the expression of the dance – is this starting to make any sense yet? Probably not, but that’s the beauty, it’s such a new concept that you have to see it to understand it.
Maybe it’ll make sense by describing the play part, which opens with a desk, a lamp, a filing case, a door – a man sits, another stands, and as the narration starts another walks in a moves the actors’ bodies reflecting the spoken words. The play is essentially about a corrupt government official, whose dirty secrets could be exposed by a visiting inspector, and the extent to which the government minons will go to save their own skins, to avoid humiliation and punishment. But the inspector is not who they think, he’s a lowly government no-one, an opportunist who’s set out to take these desperate officials for all they’re worth. But then it becomes something else, it becomes a story about redemption, about humanity and about how maybe nothing really changes.
Visually, as the actors speak their lines (or the voice from beyond narrates the scene) the characters perform their words with physical gestures to describe anything from an item to an emotion, a cane or fear. It’s like watching a play that is overlaid with dance, where the dance is described and becomes overlaid by words. As it turns out the choreography is part set and part improvised by the incredible cast of Pite’s company Kidd Pivot dancers, whose interpretation of the text, the feel of the stage and the city they’re in, influences their motion that night.
Revisor is also as hilarious and entertaining, as it is depressing and dark – in fact in the middle deconstruction section I actually felt guilty for laughing at the first part, for although it’s funny, it’s incredibly sad because of the thread of truth of the subject matter. As destruction, depravation, starvation, interrogation, and corruption are rife in our world today; just as they are in this imagined land.
And for Pite/Young to tackle this subject through dance is not only courageous, they are fearless in the pursuit of taking a historic text, a play of farce and weaving dance into its heart creating a bewildering and enthralling experience that I will never forget!. Through Pite/Young we are witnessing the birth of an entirely new genre that is delivered with a perfect balance of the masterful words and magical movement. Go see this!
Reviewed at Sadler’s Well on 3 March 2020.