Crystal Pite, one of the most innovative and consistently satisfying dance-makers of today, is essentially a choreographer of the mind. Movement in any context is normally the result of a thought, a motivation, a meaning yet much contemporary dance gives no explanation as to why the performers are doing what they do. The audience often searches for underlying meaning, so much so that it is hard to see a duet without investing it with some sentimental colouring and to see an emotional bond between the two dancers. Pite has observed that contemporary dance movement is often poor at narrative, so her current collaborations with playwright and actor Jonathon Young make for stimulating viewing, their collective efforts blurring the boundaries between the two forms.
Betroffenheit, an often harrowing into the darkest episodes of Young’s own life, was the hit of 2015, so expectations were running high for Revisor, their latest presentation. It is a success, albeit one which could, at ninety minutes, have benefitted from a little judicious editing. Taking Gogol’s comic play, Revizor (best known as The Government Inspector in English), Pite and Young have wrought a typically intelligent and often surprising exploration of the creative psyche, changing the ‘z’ of Revizor to an ‘s’ and bringing in the idea of revision and re-editing, of peeling away the surface of a narrative to enter the minds of the characters.
A dizzyingly high standard of stagecraft seamlessly weaves narrative episodes with more abstract replays and revisions and is supported by a constantly moving stage picture from Jay Gower Taylor and Tom Visser’s lighting which is almost a character in itself, and certainly a visual echo of many of the character’s inner thoughts. The original music and sound design are also finely judged, adding greatly to the changing atmosphere. Shifting the story itself to an un-named, un-identified ‘Complex’, the creators marry each character’s recorded voice with his or her movements, the ten dancers often mouthing what we hear while executing strange and exaggerated gestures and poses to emphasise and to illustrate.
In the first forty-five minutes that is, essentially, what happens, the performers’ choreography almost cartoon-like in its manic visualisation of the spoken word. The dancers amaze with their ability to become not only their characters but also to make visual their inner thoughts, but it is almost too long, and one begins to wish for Pite the choreographer to come to the fore. This she does with the ‘revision’ section in which the dancers, divested of their costumes and characters, rewind and replay the scenes we have seen, the voice-over now that of creator (Pite?) who resets, reinvents, revises the movements of those who are now just numbered ‘figures’ in motion with each other on a stage. Here Pite takes flight, her ability to form organic movement unparalleled in both its inventiveness and its clarity.
Pite’s dancers are equally at home in this freer, more abstract idiom, their striking individualities in body size, shape and texture never suppressed but melded into a homogenous whole. As the work digs deeper into the psyche, a dream-like atmosphere dominates, time and narrative impulse are suspended, logic and simple meaning absent. Touching the mind’s bottom, a surreal interlude when a near-naked dancer (the impressive Gregory Lau), stag’s antlers for arms and with a ridged spine protruding, slowly makes his way across the stage, a monster from the deep of subconscious. From then, Revisor returns to the surface, the narrative finally resurfacing before the characters are left in stasis to await their fate.
In 2018 Young and Pite’s created a similar but far less complicated work The Statement for Nederlands Dans Theater, so this exploration of words and dance is clearly another step in their shared artistic journey. They are served by the ten dancers of Kidd Pivot, as expressive and malleable a group of artists as one could wish for, from Jermaine Spivey’s elastic physicality and exquisite comic timing to the hilarious Ella Rothschild as Minister Desouza who reveals herself in the ‘dream sequence’ as a dancer of poise and emphasis. They all deserve praise for an extraordinary achievement.