The story behind Revisor is an old one – it’s inspired by Gogol’s 1836 play The Government Inspector (Revizor in Russian) – but in the hands of choreographer Crystal Pite and theatre-maker Jonathon Young, it’s radically surprising and unquestionably new.
Pite danced with William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt before setting up her own company, Kidd Pivot, in 2002, and Forsythe’s influence is evident in the way Pite has redefined choreography to include other art forms. Forsythe encouraged dancers to allow the music to inhabit their bodies; Pite’s focus is the embodiment of language as a form of dance.
Revisor’s script, written by Young, was pre-recorded by nine voice actors (including Young himself), allowing the dancers on stage to lip sync to the voice-over while moving their bodies in response to the language. The results are extraordinary.
In the opening scene, an invisible narrator describes the set and character actions as if reading out stage directions while a pendant lamp flickers in time to the rhythm of her voice. We are introduced to several characters who manage the different aspects of “The Complex”. They are told by the director of the complex that they are about to be inspected by someone from “The Centre”. As they work out how best to cover up their various indiscretions, the exaggerated mannerisms that flow from their conversation, the leg flips and chin juts, are hilarious, particularly Rakeem Hardy as Postmaster Wieland, who body-pops his sentences, arms and legs flailing in delightfully cartoonish manner.
The company as a whole are a joy to watch: they roll and tumble, stretch and contract; they are clowns, contortionists, acrobats, dancers.
The fabulous costumes (Nancy Bryant) are an indication of each character’s persona but the dancers also have their own particular style of movement. Ella Rothschild as Minister Desouza is oily, fluid, a shape-shifter, a manipulator of body and mind. Anna, the director’s wife (played by Jennifer Florentino), is frivolous and flirtatious. She cavorts and shimmies and flutters, while Doug Letheren, as Director of the Complex, is bold and demanding, strutting and thumping, every inch the self-important dominator.
The company learn that a young man fitting the description of the inspector is currently in residence at the local inn, and the director decides he will pay him a visit. This revisor, as he calls himself, is played by Gregory Lau, whose quick-witted body seems to respond with lightning speed to the inflection and sentiment in his voice-over. Osip, the revisor’s long-suffering manservant (Brandon Alley), is equally entertaining. His gestures are exaggerated and dramatic, flicking with remarkable rapidity between brow-beating and breast-clutching.
It’s all highly entertaining, but because this is Kidd Pivot, there’s also something far greater at play. It’s Desouza who leads us into “the vast unknowable region”. She mesmerises the revisor, drawing him “deeper, deeper” into a subconscious state where mythical creatures roam and words are superseded by a focus on the body. The surreal nature of the environment is cleverly enhanced by a backdrop of spidery lights that fizzle and spark like synapses (a reminder of the pendant lamp in the opening scene) and a flickering strobe that emphasises the jerky, robotic actions of the dancers (lighting by Tom Visser and Jay Gower Taylor).
The sense of chaos, of mechanical breakdown, is also emphasised by an amazing soundscape (Owen Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe) of layered noise: throbbing bass tones overlaid with the sound of things crumbling, disintegrating, and the repetition of phrases from the script. This is the domain of the narrator/inspector we heard at the beginning, and it’s where the play is revised and reimagined with the dancers, stripped of costume, forced to repeat their actions under the narrator/inspector’s direction. We have switched from high comedy to a deep questioning of who we are, what we’ve done and why we’re here.
It’s a brilliant transition and it’s what Young does extremely well: he woos us with entertainment but never lets us forget that the performance is a distraction from what’s real. Like the poet Gertrude Stein, and indeed Gogol himself, Young understands the value of repetition: phrases are repeatedly dismantled and reconfigured in an attempt to peel back the masks of language and persona, and identify who we really are at our core. When the phrase “I am within this, just as I contain it” is repeated, we get the feeling it could be Young himself speaking about the play, but of course it’s about all of us, the “I” that is the body and the “I” that’s contained by the body.
After inhabiting this deeper world of contemplation, the subject (the revisor) is “reconstructed”, “moved” and finally “brought to light”. He is returned to the world of the play determined to speak out and expose the corruption of the officials.
We, too, are moved by the transition. Revisor is a production so layered with meaning that it settles in your bones, resurfacing every so often to be reviewed, requestioned, revised. It’s an unforgettable performance from a company with the rare ability to change the way you think about the world and yourself within it.
Revisor is showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until Sunday, March 19.
Read more Adelaide Festival coverage here on InReview.
Local News Matters
Media diversity is under threat in Australia – nowhere more so than in South Australia. The state needs more than one voice to guide it forward and you can help with a donation of any size to InDaily. Your contribution goes directly to helping our journalists uncover the facts. Please click below to help InDaily continue to uncover the facts.