Revisor - Kidd Pivot - Auckland Arts Festival 2023
Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre
Auckland 9 March 2023
Choreographed and Directed by: Crystal Pite
Written by: Jonathon Young
Composition and Sound Design: Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani, and Meg Roe
Scenic Design and Reflective Light Concept: Jay Gower Taylor
Lighting Design: Tom Visser
Costume Design: Nancy Bryant
Reviewed by Brigitte Knight
Three live performance works account for half of the dance offering at this year’s Auckland Arts Festival (AAF), with two international productions (SandSong by Bangarra Dance Theatre, and Revisor) and one local (He Huia Kaimanawa by Bianca Hyslop and Rowan Pierce).
Widely celebrated and awarded choreographer Crystal Pite founded Canadian company Kidd Pivot in 2002, and their work Revisor (2019) enjoys its Australasian premiere at the AAF. Created by Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young Revisor utilises “…an archetypal comic plot to serve as the basis for choreography in a true hybrid of contemporary theatre and dance…exploring conflict, comedy and corruption…” and takes inspiration from the 1836 satirical play Revizor (Inspector/The Government Inspector/The Inspector General) by Russian playwright and novelist Nikolai Gogol.
Revisor is academically and creatively layered, and although knowledge of Gogol’s play is not required to enjoy the work, it certainly provides an extra layer of comprehension and consideration to the experience. Programme notes will be helpful for audience members unfamiliar with the genre, tone and response to the original play, and the political climate of 1830s Russia. Based on a well-known anecdote about mistaken identity (allegedly told to Gogol by Russian poet, playwright and novelist Pushkin) The Government Inspector is disguised as comedy, satirising bureaucracy, greed and political corruption. On par with Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception as a mise en abyme, the subject of the play, the play itself and the Kidd Pivot work are infused with revisions, repetitions, alterations, double meanings, and deceptions. Characterisations (and to a lesser extent plot) are recognisable and clear, albeit with revisions both to the original play and across the various sections in Revisor.
An example of the figurative layer cake that scaffolds Revisor is the seamless transition from a literal presentation to a revised and abstracted version as the work progresses. In the opening sections the characters are costumed in 19th century Russian military uniforms; a pantomime of stereotypes complete with wigs and false beards. Brilliantly skilled and detailed voice actors provide a recorded score of the bold and fundamental (revised) script by Jonathon Young, manipulating pitch and punchy articulation for a razor-sharp delivery. Choreography is a verbatim articulation of the spoken text through movement, lip-sync and gesture. Immaculately coordinated production technology divides the stage into scenes, with weighty period set furniture and precision lighting. Pite used a large boardroom table in a similar manner in The Statement (2016) drawing dancers into its gravity and providing a still point to nuanced, fine and sometimes frenetic action. Even in these early stages, however, a wider view of the stage clearly shows these scenes manifesting in an otherwise dark and empty stage, challenging the suspension of disbelief immediately. We see a military Director, his corrupt and ambitious government crew, his archetypal overtly-sexualised wife, earnest Interrogator Klak and newcomer The Revisor with his assistant Osip. The Revisor is a lowly clerk, mistaken for someone with the power to promote the Director of the Complex out of “the interior” and back into “The Centre”. We see bribes and flirtation, whispered asides, drinking, revelations and manipulations.
As we move closer to the heart of Revisor, the production shifts and becomes abstracted; costumes transition to contemporary dance clothing in a neutral palette, dance sections expand and increase, unison movement appears in precious glimpses, and fractions of recorded script are manipulated, reprised, expanded and repeated until they are moved beyond language into sound, a synaesthesia of score, theme, meaning and choreography. Elements of the surreal float in and out of the later part of the work, and are equally striking whether they occur in the unsurpassable lighting and scenic design of Tom Visser and Jay Gower Taylor, or the antler-handed skeletal animalistic dancer seeded earlier in the show.
Pite’s masterful manipulation of movement vocabularies for characters, words and the various sections of Revisor reveal the power and confidence of her artistic vision. Ideas are planted, repeated, distorted, fractured, embezzled. Gender is blurred, parodied and magnified. The dancers’ exquisite skill, precision and technique are juxtaposed, masked, highlighted, celebrated. Each member of the remarkable cast operates flawlessly within the overall moving apparatus of the performance, with dynamic control and maximum release. Ella Rothschild as Minister Desouza and Rakeem Hardy as Postmaster Weiland move with subtle idiosyncrasies in their realisation of the choreography that enable their prowess and speed to shine. Increasingly expansive ensemble dance phrases and solos whet the appetite and eventually deliver the depth of the work’s darkness, treachery, heinous bureaucracy and peripheral promises of violence.
Kidd Pivot presents finessed and essential contemporary dance theatre, richer with every re-reading and yet manages Pite’s aim to question what moves us all, what connects us to the “…deep and essential parts of humanity”.
Photos by Michael Slobodian and Jinki Cambronero.
Brigitte Knight, M.Prof.Studs (Edu. First Class Honours), BA, Dip. Teach (Sec) is an experienced and innovative choreographer, dance educator, dance and theatre critic, and dance adjudicator. She has created work for Okareka Dance Company, Coca Cola Christmas in the Park, New Zealand Fashion Week, Māori Television, TV3, The Auckland Shakespeare Company, Tempo Festival, The Basement Theatre, Aotea Diwali Festival, University of Auckland Diwali Festival, Desi Showbiz International, The Radio Network, Short + Sweet Dance, NZ One Act Play Festival and many more.