Dance: The many passions of Casanova

The name Casanova is instantly recognisable as history's most notorious lover so we can expect Northern Ballet's latest production, coming to the Lyceum Theatre next week on its world première tour, to be nothing less than a sexy ballet.

Thursday, 23rd March 2017, 9:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:08 am
Giuliano Contadini in the title role and Hannah Bateman as Henriette in Northern Ballets Casanova

We follow Giacomo Casanova on a controversial life consumed by his desires. With a penchant for gambling and women, his exploits lead him into a whirlwind of scandal and excess resulting in imprisonment and exile.

But, says choreographer Kenneth Tindall, that is far from the whole story. And that was what drew him to the subject of his first full-length ballet. “It would be unfair to concentrate on the one aspect of his life when there was so much more to him and his inner life.

Photocall of Casanova by Northern Ballet, at Leeds Grand Theatre, Leeds10th March 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

“It was an immense opportunity to take a name synonymous with womaniser and show there was a whole other side to him. He would be appalled to find what’s left of his reputation.”

Tindall admits that at the outset he knew as much about Casanova as most people. “I just knew him as the serial womaniser – the Libertine. I had seen various films and thought I had an idea of what he was like.”

His researches took him to a book, Casanova: Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy by Ian Kelly. Even that title only says the half of it, according to the biographer, also an actor, playwright and historian, who was roped in by Tindall to be co-scenario writer of the ballet.

“Casanova was fluent in eight languages, wrote in six of them, and was conversant or in correspondence with Rousseau, Voltaire, Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great, Samuel Johnson and Benjamin Franklin. He travelled 78,000 kilometres all over Europe at a time when it took a day to travel a distance we would expect to travel in an hour today. He was the first person to translate the Illiad into modern Italian, an expert on cubic geometry and collaborated with Lorenzo Duponti on the libretto for Mozart’s Don Giovanni. A man who did all of this is only remembered for his sex life – and ill-advisedly writing about it.”

Kenneth Tindall and Northern Ballet dancers in rehearsals for Casanova. Photo Justin Slee.

The ballet can’t go into all the intellectual detail but shows him dabbling in careers as violinist, alchemist, church cleric – and scam artist.

“I knew it had everything,” says Tindall. “It was set in 18th century which is used in tons of ballets and where it was born to a certain degree

“I think on the surface it’s immediately a title that lends itself well to ballet. Set against the backdrop of 18th century Venice and Europe, the visuals are alluring and fascinating. It has room for large corps numbers as well as lots of truly interesting characters – and of course plenty of room for intimacy.”

Sets and costumes are designed by Christopher Oram, whose creations are well known to Crucible audiences from his work in Sheffield during the Michael Grandage era (the pair are currently collaborating on a Broadway musical of Disney’s Frozen).

Photocall of Casanova by Northern Ballet, at Leeds Grand Theatre, Leeds10th March 2017 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

“He’d never worked in ballet before and has brought an exciting vision to the world of the piece,” continues the choreographer. “I believe it offers a fresh perspective, honouring the 18th century whilst managing to give it a modern edge. The set is very imposing, grand and versatile. The costumes are beautifully designed and very cleverly deconstruct the period to allow the bodies and the classical lines to be seen.”

Likewise with the music, Tindall was keen to marry classical and modern. “I commissioned American film and TV composer Kerry Muzzey and the resulting sound is a gorgeous mix of melodies, clear narrative themes and cinematic atmosphere.”

For many years Kenny Tindall was a popular dancer with Northern Ballet, only finally hanging up his pumps two years ago but had been working in choreography since 2011 before realising he couldn’t do both.

He was nominated for Best Classical Choreography and the Emerging Artist Award at the 2015 National Dance Awards.

Kenneth Tindall and Northern Ballet dancers in rehearsals for Casanova. Photo Justin Slee.

In addition to creations for Northern Ballet he collaborated with celebrated artist Linder Sterling and the British Art Show on Children of the Mantic Stain.

Casanova is his first full-length ballet. “It feels full circle. David Nixon (artistic director at Northern Ballet) was the one who guided me into choreographing and has been very supportive of my career.”

The transition from performing has flowed quite naturally, he believes. “The hard thing for me was solitude and finding myself spending the majority of my day working alone – quite a change from being surrounded by 40 odd colourful characters. Also when something that has been your identity and your life for so long changes and your daily routine is no longer the one you have practised for most of your life, you question who you are now. It’s been a big learning curve.”

Casanova is the first of an unprecedented three full-length world premières by Northern Ballet in 2017.

It will be followed by The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in May and The Little Mermaid, opening in September and reaching Sheffield on November 28.

Casanova is at the Lyceum Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.