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Northern Ballet Casanova Grand Theatre, Leeds, 11 March 2017, 19:30
I started to take an interest in Northern Ballet when I first read about it in Dance and Dancers in 1969. I seem to remember that it was called Northern Dance Theatre in those days. The first performance by that company that I actually saw was Gillian Lynn's A Simple Man in 1987 (see Northern Ballet's "A Simple Man" 14 Sep 2013). I have followed the company ever since - remaining loyal to it even after it moved to Halifax. I have therefore seen a lot of performances by Northern Ballet over the years. It is a very long time since I saw a show by Northern Ballet that I enjoyed as much as I enjoyed Casanova last night. It is certainly the best I have seen from Northern Ballet since the company crossed the Pennines.
Casanova is Kenneth Tindall's first full length ballet. He had already impressed the public and critics with his such works as The Architect and Luminous Junc•ture but as he agreed in his interview with me "the jump from one-act to full-length is an exponential and qualitative leap - not merely doubling or tripling of effort" (see "A Many Sided Genius" - Tindall on Casanova 4 March 2017). In my judgment Tindall has landed successfully in making that leap. I liked every aspect of the production: Tindall's choreography, the story that he created with Casanova's biographer Ian Kelly, Kerry Muzzey's score, Christopher Oram's designs and, of course, the dancers.
The ballet focusses on two episodes of Casanova's life. The first is his youth in Venice where he is introduced by Father Balbi to the Kabbalah, a proscribed text, which brings him to the attention of the Inquisition or secret police. They imprison him in the Piombi. The second episode is his exile in France where he meets Madame de Pompadour and Voltaire. At various times women flit in and out of his life - two young girls Nanetta and Marta Savorgnan, a nun known as MM, Bellino and Henriette. Sex is in the story - it could hardly be avoided in view of the detail in which Casanova wrote about it and his popular reputation - but it is not the only story. The politics of the time, the repression of women of which Bellino and Henriette were victims, and other issues were also addressed.
Oram had cleverly projected Venice and Versailles in his set designs. I was reminded of the richness of St Mark's with a brief appearance of the Bridge of Sighs and the confines of the prison house crashing down on Casanova in the last scene of the first act. I was reminded of the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles in the second. Although it was not referred to as such in the programme, there was actually an epilogue representing his employment as a librarian in Prague, There he wrote his life story at the behest of his shrink as a therapy for depression. That episode was represented by a shower of falling paper and the entry of the characters he had encountered in his life.
Muzzey's score suited the story and decor well. It was rhythmic. I noticed several of those around me silently tapping out the beat with their fingers. I even caught myself doing it too at times. It was emphatic. I particularly admired Muzzey's use of percussion. It was lyrical. In some of the softer scenes, he would repeat a refrain. Maybe not an earworm but nevertheless quite beautiful and memorable.
At the preview, Casanova Unmasked on 15 Feb, I realized that there was great depth and quite a lot of detail to Tindall's choreography. Not all of it is immediately obvious. The duet between Casanova and Bellino where Bellino tests Casanova and learns to trust him might well have escaped me had Tindall not explained it in the preview. However, there were some bits of the choreography that were eloquent. The binding of Bellino's breasts so that she could pose as a castrato and the joy of her womanhood that she expressed once those bandages had been removed. Of course, Bellino was not trans but it is a relief all trans-folk know.
Casanova was danced by Giuliano Contadini. A good choice, I thought. He is tall, athletic, muscular and, of course, Italian. I am not sure that he resembled the historical Casanova whose portrait accompanies my article but he was the right chap for Tindall's ballet. At the end of the performance, he was presented with flowers - a gesture that rarely happens in England but was entirely appropriate on this occasion. My only regret is that his leading ladies, Dreda Blow who danced Bellino, and Hannah Bateman, his Henriette, did not get any for they deserved flowers as well. So, too, did the other women in Casanova's life such as Abigail Prudames and Minju Kang, Casanova's young initiators and Ailen Ramos Betancourt who danced the nun, MM. There were powerful performances by Javier Torres as Casanova's patron, Brigadin, and Mlindi Kulashe as his persecutor. As I said earlier today in Facebook, at another time and in another place, yesterday's performance might well have earned a flower throw.
There has been a lot of hype for Casanova as there was last Autumn for Akram Khan's Giselle but in this case, the hype was entirely justified. All my expectations were met. All my hopes fulfilled. Northern Ballet danced in a way that I had not seen them dance for many years. I was not in the most receptive mood for ballet when the show started as I had run from Quarry Hill in my least comfortable but most fashionable heels over slippery pavements having languished for 45 minutes in a traffic jam caused, so far as I could see, quite gratuitously by appalling traffic management on the part of the local authority. It is to the artists' credit that I left the theatre on a high.