With near rock star status given the massive response to their last collaboration Betroffenheit, the combination of Vancouver choreographer Crystal Pite and actor Jonathon Young appears to be unstoppable. It will come as no surprise their latest work, Revisor, sold out almost immediately.
Joining forces once again, the duo are presenting another dance/theatre hybrid, this time based on an article in the Yale “Theater” magazine Young read almost fifteen years ago. It is an issue he still carries with him.
“The whole issue was devoted to the famous avant-garde Russian director [Vsevolod] Meyerhold production did of Gogol’s Inspector General,” says Young by phone during a break from Electric Company Theatre’s The Full Light of Day last month.
“It was also about Meyerhold, within the political context of Soviet Russia, and how his artistic expression was embraced by the regime and then how the regime turned against him and started to find counterrevolutionary subversive meanings in his work, and made him disappear,” he continues.
But while the inspiration may have come from the article, Young is clear Revisor has little do with the article itself.
“There’s nothing about Meyerhold and there’s nothing about his production, there’s nothing about Soviet Russia,” he explains. “But there is clearly a regime, there is a sense of military occupation in our show, there’s a sense of a very corrupt power structure that is in decay and that is on the brink of overthrow maybe. This sort of sense of impending change.”
From this kernel, Young says the play has been distilled into a modern reduction of the original play. But while of a contemporary nature, he is also careful to let audiences know it is not necessarily based on events in the world today.
“It is not set in any particular country, or doesn’t necessarily explicitly refer to any particular current events, but certainly has been inspired by them,” he says.
According to Young, Revisor is about a case of mistaken identity, where an impostor finds himself in a bit of a crisis, far from home, without money.
Mistaken for someone who has everything, who has connections and power and influences, he uses that opportunity to take advantage of everybody, and then slips away and disappears after he’s destroyed everything.
“In that sense, it’s about a bunch of powerful people bending over backwards to please someone who has no power at all, and they look very foolish in the end,” says Young.
For the collaboration with choreographer Pite, Young says it all begins, as it did with Betroffenheit, with the text.
“And then a lengthy process of conversation between Crystal and I in terms of how this language might exist on stage, and how it might be in conversation with choreography of them,” he explains. “We didn’t know how they were connected other than the fact that they would be connected physically, and then we made the show that way.”
In a media release, Pite describes the process with Revisor as a kind of feedback loop, similar to working with original music.
“Sometimes the text acts as a way of underscoring the physical: it is both musical and meaningful,” explains Pite. “Similarly to a musical score, the choreography can move analogously with the rhythm of the text and reflect its message, or it can be at odds with it, creating tension between what we’re hearing and what we’re seeing.”
For Young, known primarily as an actor, the idea of combining movement with theatre is not outside his realm, noting that all of his work with Electric Company has been very physical.
“Most of Electric Company’s productions have had some of the narrative taken on by physical imagery, and sometimes full-on choreography,” he says.
It is evident part of the process also comes from the relationship developed over the years between Young and Pite. Having first met when Pite was hired to choreograph projects with Electric Company Theatre – the Vancouver company co-founded by Young – their association has continued through Betroffenheit, The Statement for Nederlands Dans Theater, and now with Revisor.
“Anyone who has seen Betroffenheit and The Statement will see the development in some of the ideas that exists in Betroffenheit, and explored differently,” he says.
And while on its surface Revisor doesn’t seem to have the same very personal connection as it did with Betroffenheit, Young insists Revisor still comes from a personal place.
“I always have a tendency to be looking and exploring inner worlds, even if there’s overtly political content in the piece,” he says. “I’m still more interested in what’s going on inside people, and why these structures that exist internally also seem to be reflective historically and politically.”
Revisor plays the Vancouver Playhouse in its sold out run later this month. Visit dancehouse.ca for more information.