Kenneth Tindall and Ian Kelly
Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield
Northern Ballet has excelled itself with an outstanding production of Casanova.
This is a triumph of collaboration with all the elements of the production combining to create a coherent and impressive whole.
Choreographer Kenneth Tindall and Ian Kelly, author of a biography of Casanova, combined their talents to produce an original scenario. Kerry Muzzey composed the music in a modern classical style. Christopher Oram has provided stunning sets and costumes enhanced by Alastair West’s sensitive lighting effects, and Richard Mawbey of Wig Specialities has created the spectacular wigs for the performance.
Casanova is likely to be familiar to contemporary audiences for his reputation as a libertine, but there is much more to him than that. His life spanned much of the eighteenth century, including the reign of Catherine the Great, the signing of the American Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution.
He was fascinated by the ideas of the Enlightenment, wrote mathematical treatises and was an aspiring philosopher. He was variously a novice priest, a violinist, a professional gambler and ultimately a writer. The book he is given by a dissident priest at the beginning of the action becomes a potent symbol of his desire to challenge existing beliefs and mores.
The action of the first half of the ballet is set in Venice where he is seduced by two young sisters who are his pupils. Thereafter he engages in a series of relationships with men and women including the lascivious Senator Bragadin whom he meets at a masquerade ball. After escaping from the Inquisition, he makes his way to Paris where, as well as others, he becomes the lover of Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV.
Giuliano Contadini is magnificent in the central role. He has an impressive stage presence, inhabits the character convincingly, and combines considerable athleticism with artistry in the demanding scenes of sexual congress.
The choreography provides opportunities for the whole cast to shine, whether in relatively minor roles as groups of priests or nuns or guests at the masquerade, or in more substantial roles in the love scenes.
Abigail Prudames and Minyu King are delightfully naughty as the Savorgnan sisters who seduce Casanova. Javier Torres in convincingly aristocratic as the elegantly dressed, be-wigged Bragadin. The two scenes in which Dreda Blow as Bellino has her breasts bandaged and later unbandaged when she disguises herself as a boy thrillingly combine expressive dance with a visual metaphor, and Hannah Bateman is a moving Henriette when she mimes the sad tale of leaving her infant child.
Christopher Oram’s magnificent set initially presents the lofty gilt columns and stained glass windows of a vast Venetian cathedral. This adapts in later scenes to represent the torture chamber of the Inquisition, the gaming hall and even the high windows of Versailles.
This ballet will I’m sure be a modern classic. There is so much of interest to watch, the choreography and performances are thrilling, the music excitingly varied and appropriate to the action and the visual aspects delightful. It was helpful to read the synopsis of the complicated plot in the programme before going in, but the action was remarkably clear once the characters were identified. I can’t wait to see this again.