Casanova from Northern Ballet has come to The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh on the back of rave reviews for its “World Premiere” performance last week at its home in Leeds at “Leeds Grand Theatre”. This is Casanova’s first Scottish performance, and is the work worthy of the reviews of praise so far heaped upon it? The answer to that is a huge YES, Northern Ballet’s Casanova is a 21st century classical masterpiece that deserves its place amongst any of the classical ballet greats of the 19th and 20th centuries.
To perform one of the classics like “Swan Lake” or “Cinderella”, or to re-interpret or re-imagine them is one thing, but to create something of this quality from new is simply an astounding feat of combined artistic achievements.
At its heart, there are two seamless fusions…the inspired vision of choreographer Kenneth Tindall in creating this ballet and the equally inspired music of composer Kenny Muzzey. Together, they have created a work that fuses dance and music together as a unified whole, while at the same time retaining the individuality of the principal characters. Kenneth Tindall has choreographed a new ballet that seems to effortlessly draw upon the roots of classical ballet and contemporary dance at the same time to give us something that is new and fresh, while at the same time the music of Kenny Muzzey could easily have come from an earlier classical period.
“Casanova” is a complex story with a cast of many, but at its heart, it falls into two parts – Act I set in Venice where Casanova has a career in the church clearly planned for himself…being given a forbidden book to read and ensuing scandal soon put an end to those dreams. Act II takes up our story in Paris where Casanova is now in the protected circle of Madame de Pompadour, and more than enjoying his new lifestyle. There are many plots and sub-plots in the story of this amazing man’s life, and far too many to note in the limited space of this review. For further information, visit Northern Ballet’s website at https://northernballet.com
“Casanova” is not simply a ballet, it defies being pigeon holed into any one genre, it is simply an outstanding piece of theatre that has as its performance format “Ballet”, and everyone on stage from Northern Ballet seem to be on inspired form here. Taking centre stage of course is Giuliano Contadini as Casanova, and this is a mesmerising performance of both technical dancing ability and stage presence. One of the promotional taglines for this ballet is ‘Be the flame, not the moth’, and Giuliano understands this perfectly…Casanova does not have to do anything to attract attention, he needs no arrogance or swagger, women and men are simply drawn to him, and as an audience we were all easily drawn to the flame too.
This being “Casanova”, we of course have more than one female lead, and it is with the skill of a great choreographer and superbly technical and expressive dancers that each character is so individually defined on stage. Ailen Ramos Betancourt as the aristocratic nun M.M, Abigail Prudames and Minju Kang as Nanetta & Marta, the Savorgnan Sisters are wonderful to watch in Act !. Act II belongs to Victoria Sibson as Madame de Pompadour, Dreda Blow as Belino and Hannah Bateman as Henriette. Also, we can not forget the Venetian dignitary Senator Bragadin (Javier Torres). He is not only infatuated with Casanova from the very first moment he meets him, but also has a library of “forbidden books” to further fuel the ever inquisitive intellect of Casanova.
The story of Casanova is one of a man who lives every moment of his life to the full in both his intellect and physical passions, and in the wrong hands, this could so easily have become a disaster on stage. Fortunately, Kenneth Tindall and Northern Ballet understand sensuality and never cross that razor thin wire’s edge into the explicit or the crude. Every movement here is so careful and tastefully planned that we are never in danger of falling off that razor’s edge.
All of our performances take place on one of the best designed sets that I have seen in a very long time. Christopher Oram has created a sumptuous world of power and opulence and colour in a wonderful set and costumes. The church scenes of Act I are a great contrast to the gambling dens and salons of Act II and a lot of the credit for this all working so well has to go to lighting designer Alastair West.
“Casanova” is a theatrical experience in its own right and does what good theatre should do – pull an audience directly into the world that is on stage. As a ballet, there is no reason why this work should not be being performed in a hundred years’ time by new companies and seen by new audiences who view it as one of the great classical works.
We only have a maximum five star system to review performances with here, and that sadly feels totally inadequate for this work.
Review by Tom King