CASANOVA review LEEDS GRAND
Leeds Grand Theatre
by Sandra Callard
Giacomo Casanova leaves a legacy of 18th century sexual adventures par excellence. But less emphasis is made of his vast intellect, and his creativity as a writer, musician, diplomat and spy. His extensive autobiography The History of My Life reveals a man struggling to contain himself in a world too small to appreciate his many extraordinary and diverse talents. But it also reveals an innate kindness to his fellows, and an engaging acceptance of life’s misfortunes.
Northern Ballet premiere their new production of Casanova to an astonished and appreciative audience at Leeds Grand. The ballet is choreographed by the troupe’s former premier dancer, Kenneth Tindall. It is unfailingly astonishing to witness the numerous variations of dance movement that appear with each new ballet, and Tindall excels himself here. The beauty of the dance is exemplified here, and is always gracefully performed, with startling innovations. Where a lesser dancer and choreographer would produce a mere gyration, here we have a fluid and mesmerising dance of the senses.
The opening scenes are a sumptuous array of golden luxury in the high society of 18th century Venice. The stagings are astonishingly versatile, as alter rails and decorative walls glide with ease around a stage which glitters with the excess of untold wealth.
The costumes have both structure and flow. They continue to amaze as they return to their beautiful original shape no matter what torturous contortions the dancers perform. Casanova’s own seduction by two sisters as he studies for the priesthood, is a titillating initiation into the ballet. It is at once both beautiful and amusing as he is dismissed from the brotherhood to begin his life of debauchery, to be accompanied by towering heights and dismal lows.
Expectations of Northern Ballet are high, and the dancers are in a class of their own. The suitable name of Giuliano Contadini dances Casanova superbly. He displays an array of dance technique that is spellbinding. The wonderful Hannah Bateman is Henriette. She gives a beautiful and moving performance as a woman torn between her love for Casanova and that of her new baby. Dreda Blow in the role of Bellino, is superlative as a woman of indeterminate sex who fascinates Casanova.
There are famous characters aplenty in the story; the writer Voltaire makes an appearance and inspires Casanova to greater literary heights; Madame de Pompadour, mistress of the King, Louis XV, joins the gaming party, as the whole of Paris’s pre-revolution glitterati strut their stuff.
Casanova: “A superlative performance”
Contadini’s portrayal of Casanova is superb, but I must take issue with his makeup. Grey/white hair and black ringed eyes, along with black lips and a dinky black moustache do not make an attractive lover. This may well have been the norm in 18th century Venice or Paris, but it beats me why a naturally handsome man like Contadini should be made to disport himself in a bad imitation of the undead. Anything that distracts from the flow of the performance is undesirable.
That said, I cannot fault this world premier of Casanova. One production cannot hope to cover the vast range of this man’s experiences. But to Ian Kelly’s and Kenneth Tindall’s credit, they do not dwell solely on the one subject of his fame.
Giacomo Casanova was without doubt an intellectual of his day. To have survived to the age of 73 in that blood-soaked era, when he was arrested numerous times and managed to escape, is a tribute in itself to him.
images: Emma Kauldhar