When one hears the word ‘Casanova’ these days, it is likely to conjure an image of a womaniser rather than the 18th century trainee priest and aspiring writer, whose name became synonymous with the vivid sexual encounters he wrote about.
Based on Ian Kelly’s authoritative biography, Northern Ballet’s production of Casanova more than successfully brings out the contradictions in this intriguing historical figure’s character. Kenneth Tindall, collaborating with Kelly, manages to condense this colourful life into a two-hour show.
Beginning with Casanova’s traineeship as a priest in Venice and subsequent imprisonment by the Inquisition, the ballet progresses on to his new life in Paris in the second act where he acquires both a benefactor and the company of many women. After further setbacks, he is eventually energised by the writing of ‘History of My Life’, an account of his remarkable life. The story unfolds on stage with a breathless pace, every moment artfully utilised to the best effect. The action holds our attention throughout, cleverly interspersed with moments of heart-stopping suspense.
Casanova is danced by the utterly sensual Giuliano Contadini, who delivers a fiery performance, walking the fine line between sexual prowess and being an aspiring intellectual. Dreda Blow conveys the internal conflict of Bellino with a perfectly performed sequence of the liberation of her identity, while Ayami Miyata is the wonderfully elegant cellist Balletti. It is an impressive feat to choreograph dances of sexual trysts and sensual pleasure with style and elegance, but that is exactly what Tindall manages to do. The dancers are consistently excellent, taking over the stage with energy and grace.
The entire show is a feast for the eyes, from the beautiful costume design to the atmospheric set. There is a tasteful use of skeletal stage props, such as mirror frames for the multiple purposes of both mirrors, easel stands and canvases. Three gilded pillars are moved around for various purposes in different settings. Everything suggests excess and grandeur, from Casanova’s shiny golden suit to the misty, hallowed halls of the church.
Props are elegantly integrated into the dancing; the choreography faces the challenge of incorporating props head on, with dancers performing with the bows of violins and cellists. Moreover, Casanova’s performance goes so far as to toy with and play Balletti like a violin – with his bow – as the two become one in their exhilarating dance lead by the music itself. Indeed, Kerry Muzzey’s cinematic score is crucial in bringing out the various tensions and emotions throughout the ballet. The show is filled with dramatic moments such as Casanova’s imprisonment, where the stage curtains fall for the end of the first act as he is simultaneously falling under the weight of the gilded ceiling.
Lavish in detail, nuanced in plot and incredibly daring, Casanova is a remarkable work. Not only does it manage to convey Casanova’s life in an exciting and explosive dance, it does so without compromising either the art or the story.
Photo credit: Caroline Holden