Maddy Price reviews Northern Ballet's Casanova at Sadler's Wells
New narrative ballets can often be tricky – it is difficult to tell a satisfying story and fit it all into a two hour performance. They can often fall into pantomime, relying too heavily on character, dancers and mine, and often at the expense of actual choreography. Happily this is not the case here, as Kenneth Tindall’s spirited choreography holds its own within the quite complicated story of Casanova’s life. Adapted from Ian Kelly’s excellent biography of Casanova, there is a lot to pack in here. But Northern Ballet have taken the sensible approach of choosing to illustrate key moments from his life in a series of vignettes, rather than tell the whole story, and alongside a wonderful score from Kerry Muzzey they have created a rip-roaring adventure of sex, struggle and tragedy.
The Casanova story provides ample opportunity for many a fraught and passionate pas de deux, and indeed pas de trois, and pas de quatre… I lost count, but there were some very balletic orgy scenes in there. But it’s not all straightforward half-naked writhing on tables (although there is a lot of that, this ballet comes with an age guidance of 12+), there is also more thoughtful sensuality. A highlight is a beautiful scene between Casanova and his lover Balletti in which they become musician and instrument, Casanova playing Balletti’s body like a cello. Yes, it’s as racy as that sounds but it’s also moving and physically impressive. The choreography manages to showcase the dancers’ classical ability whilst simultaneously feeling strong, fresh and contemporary.
The staging is similarly gorgeous. The ballet opens with a dark stage and a single golden incense burner swinging from a pendulum, gracefully curling smoke into the air. This atmospheric beginning sets the scene for eighteenth century Venice and Paris, beautifully conjured in the lavish set and costume design by Christopher Oram. One criticism might be that amidst all this spectacle some of the heart is lost – during much of the performance we are so dazzled by the outrageous antics and bare chests it is hard to make out who is in love with who. But when Casanova is finally alone and rejected both romantically and intellectually, the last scene and crescendo of the ballet is hauntingly sorrowful. This is a fantastic new offering from a company doing exciting things in the dance world.
For more information about Casanova and the Northern Ballet’s other productions click here