It must have been hard for Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young to live up to the success of 2016’s devastating Betroffenheit. In Revisor, their imaginative retelling of Nikolai Gogol’s satirical comedy of errors The Government Inspector (Revizor in the original Russian), Pite and Young draw on familiar techniques: dancers from Pite’s company, Kidd Pivot, lip-sync to actors’ voiceovers, their movements synchronising with, or playing off, the text.
Anyone familiar with Betroffenheit and waiting for the left hook straight to the heart won’t be disappointed. The pantomime-for-grown-ups version of The Government Inspector breaks down and crumbles away. The soundtrack judders. The stage is reset. The performers return, but wearing slacks and T-shirts instead of character-appropriate uniforms. A voiceover (Meg Roe) replays and narrates every movement in every scene. Arms fold and unfold as lies unfurl; performers manipulate each other’s limbs in spiderlike symbiosis, each trying to gain the upper hand; bodies contort, choking on unspoken words.
A nightmarish quality permeates Revisor. The audience is lured in by a fairground scare act — a little Gothic, a little weird, a little violent — but when things collapse, there’s real fear and strangeness in every soupy, glitching movement. Between Roe’s anxious narration, which stumbles and repeats itself, and the contortions on stage, it’s like being inside a nervous breakdown.
In the hands of a lesser creative team, this narrative revision could seem a bit distasteful, particularly when Jermaine Spivey’s Postmaster flickers and moshes to a voiceover barking, ‘Kill the comedy, kill the comedy, kill the comedy.’ But this taut production never puts a foot wrong. With sublime ensemble, forensic choreography and superb voice acting, Revisor is another triumph for Pite and Young.
A more carefree evening was promised by Richard Alston Dance Company’s Final Edition, though the effervescent charm of Alston’s choreography is set against the tragedy of the company shutting shop: Final Edition is its farewell show, following cuts to its funding from Arts Council England.
Alston has often been praised for his musicality, a vague compliment which can easily be taken to mean ‘well, he certainly likes music’. But what Alston excels at is communicating to his audience just how much delight he takes in music. Each short piece tonight is a compliment paid to a composer.
The choreography of Isthmus, set to Jo Kondo’s work of the same name, has a luminous clarity that is almost mathematical, every crisp movement sounding like a bell — much like the music itself. Mazur, performed by Joshua Harriette and Nicholas Shikkis, draws on the Polish mazurka and Chopin’s nostalgic piano pieces (played sensitively by pianist Jason Ridgeway). It’s filled with an effortless, rhythmic grace that belies the virtuosity of the leaps — at one point, Shikkis executes chaîné turns so good that an audience member wolf-whistles.
Shine On is set to Benjamin Britten’s On This Island song cycle (sung by soprano Katherine McIndoe), and Alston reflects the austere composition with restrained, elegiac choreography. Martin Lawrance, Alston’s rehearsal director and protégé, offers us a new piece with A Far Cry, electrifying the company with a very different energy — defiant, dramatic, almost aggressive, and filled with the kind of gravity-defying lifts and explosive spins that has the wolf-whistler wolf-whistling again. Monique Jonas stands out here with her whiplash speed and superb control.
The evening closes with Voices and Light Footsteps, a new work set to music by Monteverdi. This courtly piece glows both figuratively and quite literally: the female dancers shimmer in pearl and sunrise-coloured satin dresses against a burnished red backdrop, while the men wear dusky peach and beige. It is a very Alston piece, almost chivalrous in the legibility of its language.
Alston’s works are people-pleasers, in the most noble sense of the phrase — they bring an unarguable pleasure to so many audiences. What a terrible shame to see his company take its final curtain call after 25 years. Though we may hope Alston and his dancers go on to great things elsewhere, their collective energy will be missed.