Revisor

Crystal Pite (choreographer and stage director) and Jonathon Young (script based upon Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector)
Kidd Pivot Productions
BBC4 and BBC iPlayer
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Revisor Credit: Michael Slobodian
Revisor Credit: Michael Slobodian
Revisor Credit: Michael Slobodian

Revisor was recorded just before the UK entered lockdown and it certainly makes you hungry for the high-quality theatre we have been missing and may have lost.

Jonathon Young’s script is based on Nikolai Gogol’s satire The Government Inspector. Corrupt and incompetent officials in a minor government institution are afraid their misbehaviour will be uncovered by an inspector who is rumoured to be visiting incognito. Naturally, they are so inept they mistake a minor official, whose job is to revise trivial grammatical errors, as the inspector and set off a series of events leading to—well, that would be telling. Young finds surprising humanity in characters who could easily descend into grotesques. There is the hint their misbehaviour arises from a sense of neglect by those in power; they react with humility when told their performance is to be rewarded.

The title of the dance, Revisor, has multiple meanings describing the work of the title character and the process by which the production is constantly reviewed on the way to becoming a final piece of work. It combines dance with theatre to such an extent the opening scenes raise the question of whether categorising it as ’dance’ is strictly accurate. Crystal Pite, who both directs and choreographs, sets a larger than life atmosphere that is so exaggerated the cast resemble living cartoons. A voiceover reads the script aloud and the stage lighting pulses to reflect the constant updates being made by the author even as the work progresses on stage. The cast, in full costumes, react to the voiceover like stylised puppets; moving their lips to the dialogue on the soundtrack in an exaggerated manner. Bureaucratic gibberish is rattled off at high speed illustrated by over-the-top gestures.

Dance is often used to reflect grand emotions like love or joy with dancers leaping round the stage in ecstatic bounds. Revisor concerns emotions and activities like greed, manipulation and ambition which are less noble or pure. Crystal Pite’s choreography is shaped by this atmosphere of shabby compromise and dirty deals. Rather than gentle or expressive, the dance moves are crude and aggressive, almost sexual, with legs spread and hips trusting.

At the mid-point, the double meaning of the title becomes apparent as the story returns to the beginning and replays scenes we have already witnessed from the viewpoint of the choreographer rather than the author. The voiceover becomes an articulation of the director musing how best to position the dancers who are referred to in an abstract manner as numbered figures rather than by name. The audience studies the development of the concept in the director’s mind as the cast, dressed as if in rehearsal with basic workout clothes replacing the full costumes, constantly repeat variations on the routines in accordance with the stop/go narration. It is dance in the purest form: telling the story by movement and manipulation of bodies rather than by dialogue.

Revisor is a staggeringly imaginative merger of dance and theatre which, while apparently deconstructing the dance and showing its development and the bare bones underneath the breathtaking talent on display, becomes a celebration of the art.

Reviewer: David Cunningham