Review: Casanova

Northern Ballet's Kenneth Tindall presented his first of surely many acclaimed ballets at Leeds Grand Theatre

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Even before retiring from Northern Ballet as a premier dancer in 2015 Kenneth Tindall became the choreographer to watch, with awards and praise for his short pieces teeing up the question: could he maintain the excitement with his first full ballet? The long and rapturous applause, more usual to the final curtain call, which erupts after only the first act of Tindall’s Casanova gives us the answer.

It’s a clever subject to pick. Because Casanova really is more usually thought of as a subject than a historical figure. A personification of the alluring idea of masked sexual promiscuity in Venice in the 18th century, Casanova was, however, also a writer, musician, diplomat and intellectual – he was the first to translate the Iliad into modern Italian – not to mention failed trainee priest, and it is these elements of the man which Tindall’s ballet ploughs.

Ian Kelly, author of the award-winning biography of Casanova, collaborated with Tindall on the piece. The requisite scenes of sex and orgies – one between lead Guiliano Contadini and guest artist Ailen Ramos Betancourt is particularly jaw-dropping for both its technicality and tense sexual frisson – are underpinned by a much more interesting character profile than his ‘womaniser’ fame gives him credit.

In an amusing scene which develops the relationship between Casanova and the great love of his life Henriette (danced with absorbing grace by Hannah Bateman) a portrait artist encourages Casanova to put down his beloved books and take up a more trademark seductive pose. We recognise the artist immediately since he resembles Andy Warhol in period costume. These little modern departures from the period – elsewhere 18th century gowns are made mini to reveal stockings and suspenders – lend the ballet a fresh, very immediate quality reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. Contemporary dance motifs also recur through a sequence of scenes as laudable on their own as part of the complex, life-spanning narrative ballet they make up.

Similarly, the rousing music played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia is more like a film score than a classical ballet. Tindall recruited acclaimed composer Kerry Muzzey for the task. Casanova is the first live theatrical work Muzzey has scored and the excitement he describes in ‘creating this magical world together’ with Tindall in the programme is translated in the performance.

With Casanova, his first of surely many acclaimed ballets, Tindall has created a magical world indeed.

Casanova runs at Leeds Grand Theatre until 18 March before touring nationally (

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