Artistic Director: David Nixon OBE
Choreographer: Kenneth Tindall
Original Scenario: Kenneth Tindall & Ian Kelly
Music: Kerry Muzzey
Reviewer: Beverley Haigh
The name Casanova is synonymous with womaniser, philanderer and seducer; more a derogatory term than an historical figure. Northern Ballet prove he was much more than this in Kenneth Tindell’s original adaptation for the company, readdressing this and highlighting Casanova (based on a selection of his memoirs, his life story too vast to encapsulate every element) as academic, gambler, diplomat, entrepreneur, author, musician and failed aspiring priest (due to an encounter with two sisters at a young age).
All the while, Casanova’s journey is presented as the most extravagant and seductive pieces of modern ballet in an incredibly luxurious performance. Christopher Oram’s opulent set is stunning; shafts of light stream through the chapel ceiling in the opening scenes, the costumes like bijoux jewels shimmering among it, and perfectly harmonious dyed costumes, from pointe shoe to mask.
The powerful scenes are exuberantly performed by the dancers. The opener is more contemporary in movement in a classical setting, before following with traditional ballet in the masked ensemble scenes. The corps de ballet create a visual treat in stockings and racy masquerade wear, set to a backdrop of deep purple tones with gold and black. A visual treat, the stage comes alive. This is how ballet should be performed.
There are still a number of traditional and emotive pas de deux performed between Casanova and the aristocratic nun, M.M. (Ailen Ramos Betancourt) as she seduces Casanova for the voyeuristic benefit of her lover hidden behind a screen, but in particular with his one true love, the doomed Henriette (Hannah Bateman). There are tender and emotional scenes between this pairing, as Casanova attempts to rescue Henriette as she flees from her violent husband, dressing as a man in order to do so. After being tracked down by her husband, Henriette is forced to leave with him only to return to Casanova to find her fears confirmed as he is amid numerous metaphorical faceless lovers.
In a world of ballet that is dominated by female ballerinas showcased and merely supported by men, Northern Ballet have a history of turning this notion on its head with previous strong male leads such as the spectacular Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and to a certain extent with Heathcliffe in the more recent Wuthering Heights. Here it is the turn of Casanova’s Giuliano Contadi to be celebrated: he was born to play the lead, with magnificent physical strength; obnoxious yet with just enough vulnerability when needed, producing breathtaking final scenes as his life appears before him.
The life of Casanova is so extensive, and a mammoth task to edit into a two-hour ballet, but Kenneth Tindall has done a triumphant job in creating this virtually faultless ballet. Of Northern Ballet’s recent portfolio of modern adaptations and interpretations, this is by far the most comprehensive. Kerry Muzzey’s score is perfectly matched, producing stand-alone pieces, evocative of the era. Majestic and thrilling, Northern Ballet have given ballet a much-welcomed shake-up, producing a modern masterpiece.
Casanova is one of the most exciting things to happen to ballet in a long time. Northern Ballet are true masters and pioneers in creating enduring accessible ballet.
Runs until 18 March 2017 | Image: Guy Farrow