The first entry for ‘Casanova’ in the Oxford English Dictionary claims there is ‘no doubt a touch of Casanova in Barry Lyndon’s character’. It’s therefore appropriate, nearly one hundred and thirty years later, for there to be more than a touch of Barry Lyndon about Kenneth Tindall’s production of Casanova for Northern Ballet, currently on its world premiere tour across the UK.
Yet, despite some fairly predictable publicity inviting audiences to ‘be led into temptation’, the deepest, darkest desires of Tindall’s Casanova mainly revolve around his being taken seriously as an intellectual. Perhaps not surprising, given that the ballet’s scenario was co-written by Ian Kelly, author of the prize-winning 2008 biography which shed light on the legendary figure’s hidden history as a polymath who rubbed shoulders with Voltaire, and quite likely contributed to the libretto for Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
Not that there’s anything sexless about this Casanova, only that here, the bits of decadence and occasional lust tableaux are given equal time with musings on cubic geometry (depicted through some cleverly boxy port de bras). Which is perhaps just as well, given that Tindall’s presentations of sensuality are more or less reduced to the broadest of swathes: a limited language of spread legs and stiff backs which come off as the balletic equivalent of the cert 12A ecstatic bitten lip.
Overall, the production is nothing less than exceptional, with an ensemble, featuring Giuliano Contadini in the title role, on top form throughout. The elaborate set design, lighting and staging all contribute vividly, whilst Kerry Muzzey’s first full-length ballet score very much subjugates itself to the service of the visual spectacle, never sticking its head too far above the parapets. Never showy, the music is frequently pleasing in a post-Nyman vein but difficult to imagine enjoying a life of its own.
The boldest decision that Tindall and Kelly make with their Casanova, however, is to turn him into a tragic figure: perhaps the one thing he’s never truly been in any previous incarnation. More even than Barry Lyndon, he resembles Brandon Sullivan, protagonist of Steve McQueen’s Shame: a man whose appetites are so vast that whatever he gets is never enough.
For this Casanova, these appetites are both sexual and acclamatory: an equal desire for flesh and the validation of his peers. The final irony of his story lies in the memoirs which are, for him, purely the private gasp of an ageing author hoping to briefly rejoin the company of all those he has lost along the way. Posthumously, they will preserve him for posterity – and not at all in the way he’d have hoped for.
All photos courtesy of Caroline Holden.
Casanova tours the UK through 13th May. For a full list of tour dates, visit the website.