• Photo by Andrew Beveridge.
    Photo by Andrew Beveridge.
  • Photo by Andrew Beveridge.
    Photo by Andrew Beveridge.

Kidd Pivot
Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide
Reviewed: Friday March 17

Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 play, The Government Inspector, was an unlikely hit with the then Tsar, Nicholas 1, given that it satirized the corruption of his own government. It relates an incident, apparently drawn from life, in which the officials in a remote Russian town learn that a powerful government inspector is about to visit incognito. Mistaking a minor official—the Revisor of the title, tasked with revising punctuation in government documents—for the inspector, they abase themselves before him, wining and dining him and showering him with bribes, in the hope that he will abstain from exposing their corruption and incompetence to the central government in St Petersburg. All has seemingly gone swimmingly by the time the young man departs, well satisfied with his unexpected windfall, when words arrives that the real inspector has arrived.

This tale of corruption and mistaken identity is a Russian literary classic that has mostly been played as farce, but in the hands of choreographer and director Crystal Pite and writer Jonathan Young is transformed into something far darker. Pite and Young brought Betroffenheit to the Adelaide Festival in 2017, and this new work similarly combines text with dance in brilliantly unexpected ways. The 10 superb dancers of Pite’s Vancouver-based company, Kidd Pivot, are augmented by a cast of masterful voice artists, with music and sound design by Own Belton, Alessandro Juliani and Meg Roe creating a layered soundscape of discordant noise.

The work is in three sections. In the first, the dancers, wearing period costumes, lip-synch –often slightly out of time – to the original text, all the while illustrating the words with outlandish, cartoonish movement: popping, swerving, flirting and shuddering to great comic effect. Subtle changes to the text alert us that this is a departure from the original: the town mayor is renamed "The Director of the Complex", and the stage directions are spoken aloud. Jay Gower Taylor’s minimalist set of a desk, door, sofa and cupboard creates the illusion of a comfortable bourgeois home in which the "Inspector" is entertained and pampered. A man wearing an outsized set of antlers strikes a discordant note, but we appear to be safely ensconced in the real world.

All this is stripped away in the second section, in which the dancers, clad in street clothes, move within a mysterious empty space, with flickering sparkles of light across the backdrop. We might be in the realm of the subconscious, or in the Revisor’s head, because here snippets of text from the first section are repeated and reworked in whispers so that their subtext emerges. This is the true revision of the title: where before there was petty corruption and bureaucratic incompetence, now we learn of mass graves, torture and the elimination of the "movement".  The movement is now abstract, the vocabulary ranging from razor sharp to fluid, with groupings building and dissipating repeatedly. The antlers re-appear, this time worn by a woman as part of her exoskeleton: she seems to be some kind of mythic beast signifying who knows what, moving languorously in a diagonal across the stage.

The final section returns to the Director’s office, with the dancers back in character and costume. We seem to be back in Gogol’s text: the Revisor has left town when news of the real Inspector is announced. However, in a final revision, it turns out the now enlightened Revisor is refusing to be bought off and is about to expose the official’s crimes.

The cast are uniformly excellent, but Rakeem Hardy as Postmaster Weiland and Gregory Lau as the Revisor deserve special praise for their razor-sharp movement and brilliant acting. This magnificent production transforms a classic farce into a dystopia with great contemporary resonance, and shows why Pite is one of the most sought-after choreographers in the world today.


See our EXCLUSIVE interview with Crystal Pite here.

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