Kidd Pivot's Revisor at Canadian Stage



Created by Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young

Kidd Pivot at Canadian Stage, Toronto

March 7-16, 2019

Reviewed by Ted Fox & Beverley Daurio


In Revisor, Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young, whose last collaboration, the acclaimed Betroffenheit, was also dramatic dance theatre, have engaged in a postmodern exploration and adaptation of Gogol's 1836 satire, The Inspector General. In it a lowly clerk is mistaken for a high ranking government investigator from the centre of power. Upon realizing this, the impostor takes advantage of their error, accepting bribes from petty officials and, gaining their trust one by one, leading them to betray each other and tell him all the dirty secrets of how this corrupt bureaucracy operates.


The performers mouth the dialogue, which was pre-recorded by a different group of actors and is played as a voice over. This gives a hollowing, distancing effect that is eerie, while allowing extreme physicality for the performers, who never run out of breath for speech. The odd atmosphere is compounded by Crystal Pite's choreography, which consists of grotesque distorted body language shaped by their pliable rubbery bodies, creating a nightmarish cartoon look. When they slide downwards they look like marionettes with their strings cut. The dialogue rushes as they expose their web of sleazy activities; it is uttered quickly and cleverly, loaded with the meanings embedded in it.


There are sharp details throughout. A woman appears to wear a mustache. A hysterical red haired woman has the frenzied exaggerated look of being in an old silent movie. The officials and their cronies have the mannered appearance of vaudeville villains, with an added feeling of the sinister that Pite and Young have infused into the action. The dancers are incredible: precise, elegant, swift, powerful, and intense. The use of sentinel lights flashing throughout zeroes in and exposes as well, a man hiding under a bed for example.


And then, a bit more than halfway through the piece, Revisor breaks Gogol’s story open to reveal a contemporary dance work. Gone are the nineteenth century uniforms and costumes. The performers appear in casual modern dress, and human movement returns, in the flowing, gorgeous celebration of physical possibility that has always characterized Pite’s choreography.


At the same time, this section is a philosophical exploration, suggesting a link between political structures and the hierarchies of art, including dance, and the responsibility of the subject, the individual, and those with power within any human system.


Revisor ends with a return to Gogol for the denouement of the play. Seamless transitions, and powerful lighting that shifts mood and tone flawlessly, effectively remind us how societal structures costume people and can oppress the individual through forces of insincerity and power, here manifested in deformed and unnatural movement and exploitive interactions. The performers are no longer individuals but a tightly controlled regiment moving as one, appropriate to a totalitarian regime that misleads and confuses the masses. The movements are deconstructed and reconfigured by repeating without the dialogue what has gone before. A voice over instructs them in segments with phrases along the lines of figure six moving left, figure four taking two steps forward, figure one moving to desk. This exposes the subtext hidden in the dialogue of the play. It also shows the recreation of a work into a dance work.


In their program notes, Pite and Young explain that Gogol wished The Inspector General to be considered as serious satire rather than frothy farce, and they have returned to his intentions. Overall, Revisor is an intriguing work that takes a farce that has us laughing in the first half and then becomes a disturbing dissection of totalitarianism.