Casanova at Leeds Grand

Holly Spanner review Northern Ballet’s Casanova at Grand Theatre, Leeds…

Mention the name Casanova, and people tend to think of a man consumed by love, passion, and sex, but there was more to this smooth talking C18th serial womaniser than commonly portrayed in popular culture. Highly intelligent, he had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and was well versed in mathematics, alchemy, medicine, music and philosophy. He even published a science fiction novel (The Icosameron) and was fluent in Greek and Latin.

Graduating at just 17 with a law degree from the University of Padua in Italy, this production sees Casanova beginning his career as a trainee priest before being seduced himself, for the first time, by two sisters. Caught in the act, he flees life as a man of the cloth, with his violin and a forbidden book give to him by Father Balbi, a renegade priest. Possession of this book, however, and the knowledge contained within, leads to his untimely arrest and imprisonment.

Choreographer Kenneth Tindall, the Troupe’s former Principal Dancer, has put Leeds firmly on the map for the 2023 European Capital of Culture bid, creating something so innovative, bold and intense, yet fluid utterly mesmerising, it is hard to believe that this is his first full-length ballet.

The production opens to the opulence and grandeur of C18th Venice; award-winning set and costume designer Christopher Oram taking the words ‘visually stunning’ to a whole new level. Huge golden pillars tower above the stage, reminiscent of great encyclopedias, their size reflecting the knowledge Casanova yearns to accumulate. Coupled with Alastair West’s lighting, the set is surprisingly versatile given its dimensions. From the oppression and power of the church to the excitement and scandal of the Parisian Gamin Salon, and the dark claustrophobic prison cells to the dazzling, almost shabby chic, golden walls of light, no detail has been overlooked. Even the forbidden book itself emanates a light, illuminating not only Casanova’s face but ideas also.

Northern Ballet are known for being specialists in conveying the narrative, and have chosen to work with dramaturge and historian Ian Kelly for historical accuracy, although a degree of artistic license is present. The memoirs of Casanova (of which there are a whopping 12 volumes) are widely regarded as one of the most authentic representations of European social life in the years leading up to the French Revolution.

Oram’s costumes are stripped down versions of the full gowns, bodices, justacorps, jackets and breeches worn by Venetian nobility. Featuring incredible, intricate embroidery, powdered wigs, stockings, lace underwear and open half-hoopskirts, the deconstructed period attire is sensual and provocative, allowing the dancers’ room to move and show off their figures.

Hailing from Rimini in Italy, Giuliano Contadini in the title role has an enormous amount of stage time, giving a hugely physical yet beautifully compelling, intelligent performance of this complex character. He exudes the charisma of a man who delights in a lavish lifestyle of excess and decadence, yet one for whom the blackness of depression hovers ominously in the background.

The ballet features a full, luxurious and cinematic new score by composer Kerry Muzzey. Evocative in every sense of the word, it evolves with Casanova as he explores pleasure, academia and intrigue, so to as he suffers heartache, despair and frustration.

Casanova is a powerful new ballet that culminates in a thrilling finale, where recollections of his whirlwind life dance across the stage to a thunderous, standing ovation. Unmissable.

Runs until 18 March 2017, then touring nationwide
Reviewed on 11 March 2017
Image: Guy Farrow

One comment

  1. I saw the performance and enjoyed it but thought there was something missing with there not being a female lead role. I loved the musical score.

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