The brilliance of Crystal Pite’s Revisor

I saw Revisor last night with Holly. It’s the latest dance from choreographer Crystal Pite, with story by Jonathon Young. A Kidd Pivot production.

And it blew me away.

I’ve been a fan of Pite since seeing her award-winning Emergence at the National Ballet of Canada years ago (and I’ve seen it every year since when it’s on offer at NBC). It’s a ballet about insects in a hive and what is means to be part of a community. And it’s beyond fabulous. And … tattoos.

Revisor is an adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s 1836 play, The Inspector General – a farce, a comedy, about the absolute corruption, oppression, greed, and tyranny within an unidentified “Complex” in the interior of Russia.

Revisor took me a while to get into. The first part of the performance is effectively a retelling or imitation of the play, with recorded dialogue and Russian costumes (and dance, yes). It tells the story of the people who operate the Complex and their purpose – holding prisoners, torturing dissidents, rounding up the masses. And their ultimate purpose is looking out for their own asses when they get word from a “trusted source” that an inspector from the “Centre” is coming to check them out.

After about 20 minutes of watching this story play out, I started to wonder what I had signed up for. A Russian farce about corruption and tyranny wasn’t really what got me out of the house on a Saturday evening (both Holly and I being homebodies on the weekends).

But then Revisor transformed (revised), brilliantly, into a dance performance showcasing the inner machinations of the creator who is adapting the Russian play for a modern audience. The female narrator, representing the creator (both Jonathan as writer and Crystal as choreographer and director, I assume), identifies the key figures in the story and its plot points and translates them into dance movements that drive the heart of the narrative, that reach into the heart of the characters’ motivations.

It reminded me of something very prosaic, but it’s the best analogy I have – the “reveal codes” function in WordPerfect. WordPerfect is a long-gone  word processing program people my age used in the olden days; your document is displayed on screen, but with a command, you could “reveal codes” to see the coding behind your document’s formatting. That’s what Revisor did, it revealed the thought process behind transforming a 19th century Russian farce into a 21st century modern dance. It strips away the costumes, the dialogue, and the farce of the first part of the performance and lays bare the creativity and inspiration behind the dance. It stops being an imitation and becomes a very personal, beautiful, and affecting dance performance that, I think, is also an indictment of our modern world.

At one point towards the end of the “reveal codes” piece, the dancer who plays the character of the “subject” (the Revisor mistaken for the Inspector) is left alone on stage. Having learned about the atrocities at the Complex, her (yes, it’s turns out the Revisor is and always was a she, another revision) movements convey her pain. A moment very reminiscent of Heart of Darkness (the horror, the horror, said Kurtz).

The female narrator says repeatedly, as the subject moves about the stage in pain and confusion, the subject is moved. Meaning, the subject is physically moving, the subject is being moved and directed by the creator, the subject is emotionally moved by discovering these atrocities. And the subject is also the creator, moved by the original play and how it resonates in current times. You cannot watch Revisor without believing that it’s inspired by the venal corruption of Trump, his greed, and his debasement of democracy and all things decent.**

And it’s so clever. “Revisor” has so many meanings. First, it’s the Russian character from the original play – the “subject” who shows up at the Complex from the Centre and is mistaken for the titular Inspector. Actually, he’s not an Inspector at all; he’s a revisor – he’s there to change a comma in the Centre’s charter.

And then the creators fundamentally revise the play in the second part to create the “reveal codes” stripped down version of the story.

In the middle of the “reveal codes” piece, the creator also starts pausing – rethinking and editing her own creation – with the narrator chanting that she wants to make one “simple revision”. Again, it’s all about the process of creativity, honing and fine-tuning as one expects a great choreographer like Pite does again and again. The artistic process of determining, in a final piece of art, what stays and what goes.

I haven’t even touched upon the dance, the movements, the fluidity – and sometimes the scary spasmodic jerkiness. I realize I don’t even have a vocabulary to describe it – it’s transfixing. Jermaine Spivey was a wonder as the Postmaster Weiland, a bureaucrat who has seen and read too much and is literally being torn apart with the knowledge of everything that’s going on and not being addressed on the surface.

Last night was the last performance, I’m afraid. If it was on again tonight, I’d be trying to get rush tickets to experience it all over.

**As an endnote, if you really want to get scared about how bad it could get under Trump’s autocratic regime, read Graeme’s blog on how Trump is literally contemplating starting a civil war:

Hubby responds to taking the long view

I keep telling hubby he needs to start his own blog; he’s brilliant, articulate, and very opinionated. He disagrees with my post about the TO Star editorial being comforting. He thinks it encourages complacency. Which was not my intention – March! Protest! Fight! For sure! But please let’s not have the world end, please make me feel like it’s going to be OK.
So here is his take:

Re take the long view: allow me a polite riposte, not of course to my precious KOB, who is just trying to see the bright side (albeit one I don’t perceive), but to the Toronto Star, which I believe to be flabby and complacent in its editorial. Clearly, I should shut up and start my own blog, but just this once…

It is true that constitutionally, the American Presidency is designed to have limited powers, particularly when it comes to making war and raising and spending money. It’s also true that Congress can thwart many ambitions of the sitting President, as we saw only too well over the past eight years.

However, it bears remembering that we are nowadays in a murky constitutional grey zone of Presidents using military force without Congressional approval, executive orders supplanting legislation, and unconstitutional behaviour going without protest or even comment.

Here’s what President Trump has the unequivocal power to do, all by his lonesome:

  • he can emit a tweet that causes stock prices to crash, or foreign powers to become alarmed, signalling sea changes in US policy without the filter of Congress or even his own Cabinet – recall how much of geopolitics and the global economy runs on perception, giving his intemperate little 140 character rants appalling power;
  • he can tear up environmental regulations that Obama instituted by executive order;
  • he can allow his Cabinet cronies to gut the agencies he’s picking them to lead, with dire consequences for the EPA, Dept. of Labour, HUD and so on;
  • he can reverse course on Gitmo;
  • he can use his authority over institutions like the IRS and FBI, and the massive national security apparatus in general, to make life miserable for his countless perceived enemies, it being obvious from the Comey affair that elements of the federal bureaucracy are quite willing to ignore their own ethics and protocols – under Trump, who craves revenge against all perceived slights, civil liberties and freedom of the press may come under savage assault;
  • to which end he can boot the press corps out of the West Wing, and refuse to subject himself to media questioning, preferring instead to Tweet random gibberish at 3 AM;
  • he can sidle up to Putin and undermine NATO in a thousand ways, great and small, while generally wreaking geopolitical havoc, emboldening dictators and terrifying allies;
  • he can move, and indeed has moved, “the goalposts”, just as Reagan did, shifting political discourse such that the far end of the spectrum becomes the middle, ushering in a new era of crassness, vulgarity, and the shattering of norms, damage of a sort that tends not to get undone;
  • he can initiate an almost continuous period of constitutional crisis, as debate ensues over the breadth and meaning of the Emoluments Clause, whether his apparent collusion with Russia is something tantamount to treason, whether his close family exercises too much power within Cabinet, contrary to anti-nepotism laws, whether his limitless conflicts of interest are something the law needs to be changed to address, and so on;
  • he can inspire, and already has inspired, politicians at state and local levels to attempt to pass new laws that restrict voting and reproductive rights and attack the LGBT community, which only a soon-to-be-stacked judiciary can stop;
  • he can create, and already has created, an atmosphere of licence in which the gutter dwellers of America’s alt-right and white supremacist communities sense it’s now permitted to give vent to their darkest urges;
  • he can, of course, pick up the phone and kill every living thing that walks or crawls, and none of you should believe for one second that the military will do anything except salute smartly and execute an authenticated order to employ nuclear weapons;
  • and so much more, really.

Let’s also remember that the constitutional checks on the executive branch are supposed to be a vigilant and incorruptible judiciary, and a suspicious and uncooperative Congress. As to the judiciary, The Donald now gets to stack the Supreme Court, and fill literally hundreds of vacancies at the federal circuit court level that Congress prevented Obama from filling; as to Congress, be serious. This is the Congress of Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz and the Tea Party. True, these yahoos may quietly spike some of Donald’s plans, for example when it comes to international trade, but they’ve proven themselves thus far to be craven bootlickers, quavering in terror of Trump’s deranged base, which is also their base. In any case, they could ignore Trump altogether, and it wouldn’t do the world any good: this is a group of sour white men devoted to the denial of climate change, the ravishing of the environment, the disenfranchisement of the poor and non-white classes, the savage restriction of female reproductive rights, the cutting of taxes on the super-wealthy, the dismantling of the social safety net, the repealing of health care reform, and the list goes on. Does the Star think Trump will be exercising his veto when that legislation crosses his desk?  So long as the current Congress simply does what it says it wants to do, American society will enter what amounts to a privileged white man’s revanchist wet dream.

Let’s be clear: these grey men don’t just want to undo Obama. They want to undo LBJ, and FDR too.  They want to undo Roe v. Wade, Brown vs. Board of Education, and Miranda, and The Donald has just the Supreme Court nominees to make it happen.  They want to undo social security, medicaid and medicare, and they want to repeal the already anemic financial regulations like Dodd-Frank that were enacted to try to put a firebreak between the freebooting capitalist buccaneers of Wall Street and the global economy, as if it wasn’t just recently that Henry Paulson was wondering whether the lights would still be coming on when he got back to his office.

The best hope is that the American people resist, in droves, vehemently, and soon, once they figure out what’s going on. Maybe it isn’t too naive to hope that something can change with the midterms in a couple of years, despite the relentless gerrymandering of Project Red Map. Maybe undoing the 20th Century will be harder than the likes of Paul Ryan can possibly understand, as they snuggle into bed each night in their Ronnie Reagan Pajama Roos, clutching tight to their well-thumbed copies of Atlas Shrugged. Maybe. But now is no time to wait and see.

The long view? I’m with Keynes; in the long run, we’re all dead. Yes, we manage to live through bad Presidencies, but not without semi-permanent damage. The likes of Nixon and Reagan had lasting impact, and the world still rocks in the reverberations of the Bush years – just ask the people of Iraq and Syria about that.

That said, O’Leary is indeed an asshat.

Take the long view, and Kevin O’Leary is an asshat

Some comforting reads, on a day when we just want to bury our heads in the sand and keep them there for 4 years:

  • The TO Star has a helpful and clear-eyed op-ed. The new US President takes extreme positions to provoke and makes outrageous and offensive statements so he can feed off the anger. He’s a toddler, and he should not be taken at face value. Remember that the office of the President is actually pretty weak; his power is limited. So, perk up, we’ll most likely live through this.

  • Arlene Dickinson, who worked side-by-side with Conservative Party leader candidate Kevin O’Leary for seven years on CBC’s Dragon’s Den, offers a scathing assessment of his traits and abilities as a political leader. He only cares about money, and he has zero empathy for the common man or woman. In other words, he’s an asshat. Thank you Arlene for making this public statement. Canada does not need Trump-lite.