This was five years to the day since my last viewing of Kenneth Tindall’s Casanova  and much has changed in those intervening years not least that Federico Bonelli has recently succeeded the long-serving David Nixon as Northern Ballet’s artistic director. Marking the beginning of Bonelli’s tenure with this revival of Casanova seemed an apposite statement confirming Northern Ballet’s tradition for ballet theatre and reaffirming Tindall’s role as Resident Choreographer. This, his first full-length ballet, mixes a creative cocktail of grandiose design, inventive choreography and a cinematic score into an epic adventure of absorbing dance theatre.

Northern Ballet dancers in Casanova
© Caroline Holden

Reading the synopsis beforehand is advisable to clarify this necessarily complex interpretation of Casanova’s multi-faceted life although Tindall skilfully develops both narrative and character through his expansive and varied choreography. He worked with Ian Kelly, Casanova’s biographer, to present key episodes in the scandalous life of a man whose infamy for prodigious lovemaking has obscured his justifiable legacy as a polymath. Nowadays, the pejorative adjective of “Casanova” describes a philanderer; but, in reality, Casanova was also a violinist, philosopher, mathematician, scientist and author.

A seamless connectivity between scenes is facilitated by Christopher Oram’s mobile set, both monumental in scale, yet apparently simple to manoeuvre (by the dancers themselves). Three palatial, highly reflective, gold and black panels dominate the stage, opening out to represent gilded windows or huge mirrors, evoking 18th-century Venice and Versailles. Pews, tables and thrones are swiftly rolled into place to change scenario from church to palace in the twinkling of an eye and Alastair West’s lighting embellishes the visual spectacle with impressive patterns of light and shade.  

Joseph Taylor and Abigail Prudames in Casanova
© Caroline Holden

Oram also designed the eclectic costumes, which vary from Elizabethan ruffs and knickerbockers, through imaginative wimples, to distinctly modern underwear (stockings, suspenders and tight Lycra briefs), which would certainly have been a novelty in 18th-century Venice! A special mention is due to the extraordinary plethora of wigs designed by Richard Mawbey. Kerry Muzzey’s cinematic score builds in luscious, looping layers of melody accented by emphatic crescendos. Each scene d’action is sensibly articulated, building into memorable melodies for the main duets and ensemble dances, which Tindall constructs as tightly-knit patterns of group movement, such as the outstanding opening dance for six seminarians.

The character of Casanova is virtually ever-present, performing several taxing duets and trios (perhaps more descriptively, ménages à trois) and partnering several women. Joseph Taylor provided an exemplary characterisation of Casanova’s extraordinary journey from the trainee monk seduced by the Savorgnan sisters (Alessandra Bramante and Alessia Petrosino) to the Parisian intellectual, enjoying the benefaction of Madame de Pompadour (Hannah Bateman). One comedic scene showed Casanova having his portrait painted; another has him explaining cubic geometry to the scornful disdain of Voltaire (Sean Bates). Taylor conveyed the complex contradictions in Casanova’s character very well: the seduced and seducer, the manipulated and the manipulator; his academic and literary aspirations; and – above all – the ebullience of his adventurer’s spirit.  

Northern Ballet dancers in Casanova
© Emma Kauldhar

Those seductive Savorgnan Sisters were the trigger for both Casanova’s sexual awakening and his defrocking (in more ways than one); their threesome demurely suggested under a voluminous silk curtain. His next seduction (this time over a table) is by the duplicitous and energetic nun, “M.M.” (Abigail Prudames). Their sexual encounter is staged for the voyeuristic pleasure of her lover, Cardinal de Bernis (Bates again) and managed to be both athletically erotic and elegantly understated, which is quite a choreographic achievement.

Casanova enjoyed a trio of real romances: with Manon Balletti, a cellist and courtesan, demurely portrayed by Sena Kitano; Minju Kang gave a tender account of Bellino, a young woman disguised as a castrato before being revealed as a woman by Casanova unrolling the bandages around her breasts; and finally Henriette (Saeka Shirai) who flees her abusive husband (Bruno Serraclara) and could have been the love of Casanova’s life had she not stumbled upon him in the midst of a writhing orgy of twisting bodies.

Joseph Taylor and Minju Kang in Casanova
© Emma Kauldhar

Javier Torres played Casanova’s Venetian benefactor, Senator Bragadin, who suffers a stroke whilst attempting to seduce Casanova; that scenario being spectacularly portrayed through a sequence of sharply-lit tableaux, cut into intervals of darkness; and Ashley Dixon was the revolutionary priest, Father Balbi, who temporarily cheated the Inquisition by handing Casanova a forbidden book.  

The most effective coup de théâtre comes in a momentous finale. Rejected by Henriette, Casanova is driven to the edge, literally as Taylor rushes to the front of the stage to be captured in a one-legged, highly illuminated, balance, as if snapped in mid-flight. He is brought back from the abyss by two pages fluttering from the flies; followed by a deluge of floating papers that suggest the beginning of his epic biography, Histoire de ma vie. It is a spectacular image with which to conclude this rare event of an excellent British ballet on a grand scale.

****1