Music: Kerry Muzzey
Writer: Ian Kelly
Choreographer: Kenneth Tindall
It’s rare that the first thought that goes through a reviewer’s mind is “what fantastic lighting design” but that’s what happens as the curtain goes up on Northern Ballet’s Casanova revealing the interior of a cavernous church where a celebratory mass is in progress. Daylight (or the light of God if you like) streams from above the alter on a congregation of clerics and nuns in deep contemplative prayer. Among them is Casanova (Joseph Taylor), priest in training, shortly to be booted out for being caught in a compromising position with his pupils, two identical redheaded sisters. And so we begin to follow the lascivious life of this infamous lothario as he seduces his way around Venice, then Paris and finally the Palace of Versailles after catching the eye of Madame de Pompadour herself.
But back to that lighting design. Perhaps aware that this is a complicated and, in many ways, rather dull story, the creative team have gone all out on the visuals. It’s absolutely stunningly gorgeous. From the glittering backdrop of the colossal set, to the opulent costumes, Kenneth Tindall’s wonderful choreography is elevated to another level by Christopher Oram’s eye-popping design. All of which is bathed in glorious light by Alastair West.
Oram’s costumes look like they should be on a London Fashion Week catwalk, but, unlike the average haute couture outfit, they are perfectly designed for movement, occasionally enhancing, and never restricting the bodies of the dancers. Monks in long flowing sleeveless hooded cloaks move like ninjas, short skirt hoops bounce and sway with their wearers, a gold tailcoat gapes open revealing Casanova’s muscular chest. On a predominantly gold and black colour palette, occasional reds (the Cardinal’s robes, Bragadin’s coat) leap out.
Set against all of this, Tindall’s choreography needs to be bold, and it mostly is. Ensemble pieces – the monks in the opening scene, the masquerade ball, the Palace of Versailles party – work beautifully with their pulsing synchronised moves and repetitive ritualistic gestures. The exquisite duets highlights of the production, but there’s too much coming and going between these which breaks up the flow – letters and books exchanged, superfluous bit-part characters popping up, all in an attempt to tell the story – one that’s completely unintelligible if you haven’t read the programme notes – and not much clearer if you have.
While credit must go to Joseph Taylor in the title role, there are many wonderful performances from the large company of dancers. You can’t take your eyes off Minju Kang as Bellino as she strips away her male clothes and reveals herself as a woman. Abigail Prudames as MM creates a beautifully sensuous scene as she seduces Casanova, and Alessandra Bramante and Alessia Petrosino dance an extraordinary trio with Taylor as the Savorgnan sisters.
Kerry Muzzey’s music is rich and layered. Muzzey has a long back catalogue in film and TV and it shows. The score, choreography and visuals come together to create more than the sum of their parts. The piano has its quiet sensuous and contemplative moments, the brass instruments rise above the rest of the orchestra in moments of joy, the percussion acts like punctuation, the strings soar.
While Casanova feels like it treads new ground it’s packed full of cultural references. Think Peter Greenaway/Michael Nyman films and late Rococo paintings. Think Vivienne Westwood and Issey Miyake, and the smoky interior of the Blue Mosque. Think sexy and scandalous. It’s a great night out.