Kidd Pivot: Revisor

Thursday, Mar. 21 & Friday, Mar. 22, 7:30 p.m. Thu./8 p.m. Fri., $37 

UNC’s Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill

Working with Crystal Pite is intense. By now, that may not come as much of a surprise to Triangle audiences, whom the Canadian choreographer has repeatedly chilled and challenged with her unsettling visions of contemporary life and loss.

When Nederlands Dans Theatre performed The Second Person at UNC in 2011, a wooden puppet behind a mike stand narrated an uncanny tale in which characters depicted as families, friends, and lovers of the grammatical second person—you—were being swallowed up in an impersonal, black-suited city crowd. Three years later, stark mobile searchlights surrounded Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s dancers in Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue at the American Dance Festival

Then, Pite’s own company, Kidd Pivot, shocked ADF audiences in 2017 with her and playwright Jonathon Young’s Betroffenheit, a carnival ride through a glitzy underworld of grief that suggested a David Lynch–directed version of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz. And last year, Nederlands Dans Theatre executed Pite and Young’s subsequent tale of ruthless executive-suite reckoning, The Statement

This week, Carolina Performing Arts presents the U.S. premiere of their latest work. In a change-up, Revisor, which CPA co-commissioned, is a farce based on Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 satire, The Government Inspector. According to press the new work has already received, laughs are abundant as a crafty civil servant gleefully hoodwinks the corrupt provincial government leaders who have mistaken him for a state auditor. Still, the creation of work, according to Eric Beauchesne, Kidd Pivot’s associate artistic director, has been consuming. 

“There’s a lot of information to process and deal with,” Beauchesne says. “[Pite] is a fast worker, so the whole team has to pick up the pace and make sure they’re on the same train as her.”

Then comes the challenge of performing Pite’s choreography. Beauchesne recalls being wiped out by the end of performances, not only by the physical demands, but by the emotional content. 

“It’s never just a ‘soft and release’ kind of approach,” he says. “She loves physicality, the result of physical effort, and I would say the same thing for the emotional angle. It’s exhilarating because we go so far … but it’s also exhausting.”

Still, Pite’s background as a dancer and her knowledge of anatomy have enabled her to create organic movement that allows dancers to enter demanding territory in a healthy way. Since her work is so well constructed, Beauchesne notes, “Even though it can push you really, really far, usually it feels quite good to dance.”

Beauchesne came late to dance himself: After seeing his first dance at age sixteen, he started ballet lessons two years later. But following a meteoric rise, the award-winning performer worked with professional ballet companies in Canada and Germany before joining Kidd Pivot fifteen years ago. As the group’s associate artistic director, Beauchesne now reconstructs Pite’s repertoire on major companies around the world. 

He’s witnessed the three-time winner of the Olivier Award, England’s version of the Tony, integrate an increasing array of art forms into her work over the years. Since dance and theater have different strengths, Pite “likes to gather and work with as many tools as possible to say what she wants to say,” Beauchesne says. “Crystal is first and foremost a communicator. She wants to tell a story; whether it’s a narrative or figurative story, she’s a storyteller.”

And she’s using a broad range of genres and approaches to tell them. In Revisor, after succinctly staging Gogol’s actual farce theatrically, with performers lip-syncing the prerecorded dialogue of vocal actors, the work then “deconstructs and reinspects it,” Beauchesne says. As in Betroffenheit, the initial setting, costumes, and most of the dialogue are gradually excised, leaving the central movements and motifs unanchored in a specific situation, context, or world. 

“It’s a different mirror,” Beauchesne says. “If we use different ways to approach the same material, people will relate to the work differently, and see themselves differently in the work. It will reveal something different from the staged farce to the deconstructed farce.”    

Though some have connected Revisor and The Statement to Donald Trump, both projects were begun before his presidency, which points to the timelessness of certain iniquitous character types. 

“It’s not about him. It’s about human foibles and human corruption,” says Beauchesne, who nevertheless acknowledges that Pite’s work has become more politically engaged over the years. In The Statement, a crisis-management team is tweaking a disaster in another country for its own benefit, and 2017’s Flight Pattern dealt with the global refugee crisis. 

“I don’t think we’re talking about an artist who had an epiphany and decided to become a political artist,” Beauchesne says. “The work has just evolved that way. Of course it’s timely to talk about corruption and imposture. It’s always been timely. That’s why Gogol wrote the play in 1836. Classics are classic for a reason.”