Northern Ballet, Casanova. The Lowry, 6 May 2017, 19:30
I was pretty complimentary about Kenneth Tindall's Casanova when it opened in Leeds on 11 March 2017 (see Casanova - "it has been a long time since I enjoyed a show by Northern Ballet as much as I enjoyed Casanova last night" 12 March 2017). I liked last night's show at the Lowry even better.
I think there are three reasons for that.
The first is that we had a very strong cast that included both of Northern Ballet's remaining premier dancers, Javier Torres and Pippa Moore as well as personal favourites like Hannah Bateman, Abigail Prudames, Antoinette Brooks-Daw and Mlindi Kulashe in important roles.
The second reason for last night's success is that the dancers will have grown used to their roles over the last two months and danced in the confidence that audiences around the country and most of the critics like the show.
Thirdly, I think the dancers were lifted by the venue. The Lowry is a great auditorium, certainly for audiences because seating is comfortable commanding good views of the stage from just about every part of the house, but I think also for performers as the stage is large and it is well equipped for scenery changes and special effects.
The company danced before a receptive crowd and though the house was less than full the warmth of the applause at the end when more than a few rose to their feet more than made up for it. Manchester audiences may be a little bit more critical than Leeds ones as they see Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet and visiting companies from abroad such as the National Ballet of China and Alvin Ailey as well as Northern Ballet. If a show does well in the second largest conurbation of the United Kingdom it will probably do well anywhere. As the old saying goes, "what Manchester does today, the world does tomorrow."
As I have written a lot about Casanova already, I won't bore readers with a rehash of the plot or the work of the various contributors. They can get all that from Northern Ballet's website and the bibliography below. I will concentrate on the dancers and what made last night's performance even better than the first night.
As I noted above, we had a very strong cast. Giuliano Contadini was the poster boy of the show and deservedly so for he danced Casanova very well but Torres was cast perfectly for the role. Powerful, athletic and passionate, he was how I had always imagined the historical Giacomo Casanova. There is a point towards the end when he has to hold a very uncomfortable pose for what must seem like an age. That was when I appreciated just how good he was.
Another inspired bit of casting was Prudames as Bellino. One of the most touching scenes of the ballet - touching in both senses - is where Contadini gradually winds her confidence. It was demonstrated at the preview with a commentary from Tindall by Contadini and Dreda Blow (see Casanova Unmasked 16 Feb 2017). Prudames made it work even better for she showed the vulnerability of her character and the sensitivity of their encounter given the disparity in power.
Yet another powerful performance came in the first act where MM (described in the blurb as "an aristocratic nun" and danced by Bateman) seduces Casanova thereby giving the inquisition the excuse they need to throw him into the Leads, the prison on the other side of the Bridge of Sighs.
Constraints of time and space prevent my commending everyone individually, All, dancers and musicians, did well last night. I congratulate everyone who took part in the show.
As the orchestra pit of the Lowry is a bit more spacious than most I was able to glimpse the orchestra occasionally as it tackled Kerry Muzzey's score. Percussion is important particularly towards the end of the show and I was drawn to the percussionist seated on the back row of the pit as he sounded out the change of mood. Thr Northern Ballet Sinfonia was conducted by Daniel Parkinson last night who interpreted the music well. I am not sure that I appreciated the score as much as I did last night the first time round. Yesterday I particularly liked the first act where there were hints of the 18th century without pastiche.
I also appreciated the sets and lighting more and noticed things like the sort of white smoke that rises from the Sistine Chapel when a new pope is found which opened the show. I am not sure of its significance. I assume it was used in the Grand but, for the life of me, I just can't remember it. It was, however, very effective owing moe than a little to the cinema which I know to be Tindall's passion (see "A Many Sided Genius, Tindall on Casanova 4 March 2017). Not everything worked quite so well. If, as I hope, this ballet has a second run, t I hope that Tindall takes another look at the flashback scene with its falling pages reminiscent of the snow scene at the end of Nixon's Wuthering Heights. A fine bit of choreography deserves a stronger and more original ending.
It was very good to see Northern Ballet west of the Pennines where the company began. As a Mancunian, I took pride in Northern Dance Theatre's existence long before I ever saw them dance. And when I did see them dance I saw them first in Manchester which is where they performed some of their best work. It would be good to see more of them in our city and there is no reason why they should not do so. After all, the Australian Ballet has a strong base in Sydney as well as Melbourne and the Miami City Ballet has homes in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach as well as Miami. As I have said many times, the company is called Northern Ballet, not Leeds City or even Yorkshire Ballet. If Birmingham Royal Ballet can manage two seasons a year in our city region I see no reason why Northern Ballet could nit do the same if it really wanted to do so.
Bibliography: Reviews and Insights
24 May 2016