Aerys Merrill and Julie Nunès in Casanova. Photo Riku Ito

Kenneth Tindall’s Casanova

Kenneth Tindall’s Casanova, which he created for Northern Ballet in 2017, has had a welcome revival this year and returned to Sadler’s Wells in glorious style. Its success is due to each of the components working well together. Set and costume designs by Christopher Oram are sumptuous, opulent and atmospheric, as are the wig and make up designs by Richard Mawbey. Alistair West’s lighting tells a story all of its own with magical consequences and Kerry Muzzey’s filmic, functional score does the job in an inclusive way. Tindall, whilst he has created some memorable abstract ballets, is one of a handful of 21st century choreographers who has the ability to translate narrative into classical ballet and make the steps do the talking. In collaboration with Ian Kelly, whose biography of Casanova the ballet is based on, Tindall has managed to make us rethink our perception of Casanova. Normally synonymous with promiscuity, philandering and being irresistible to women (and the name frequently used to describe men of that ilk), he was an author, a priest, a musician, spent time in prison, was hugely witty and yes, he developed a voracious sexual appetite. How to do all this as a classical ballet with a large cast of characters whose exploits have to be followed in various locations within a two hour performance, is a task an a half. Tindall has succeeded.  He couldn’t, of course, have done it without such a supreme cast of dancers.

Joseph Taylor and Abigail Prudames in Casanova. Photo Caroline Holden
Joseph Taylor in Casanova. Photo Caroline Holden

The production starts in Venice and finishes in Paris. Casanova’s life is as equally plagued by misadventure as it is by good fortune. Over the course of the evening there is a great deal of seduction and debauchery, artfully depicted, masked balls, plenty of moments of disgrace, gambling and tragedy and it goes at a pace. Group scenes are masterfully filled with challenging steps, all executed with military precision but, it is the numerous pas de deux that display Tindall’s originality. While he has clearly absorbed much from the great Kenneth MacMillan and his former director, David Nixon, his innovation and fearless attack with complicated lifts, the sensuality that leaps across the footlights, is very much in his own voice. He is adept at using inanimate objects to express emotions and relay the plot (tables, church pews). But more than this, his characters have real depth. It is helpful to read the programme but not necessary in order to find it compelling viewing.

Northern Ballet dancers . Photo Emma Kauldhar

Of the many characters, Javier Torres as Senator Bragadin and Sean Bates as Voltaire were delicious in their cameo roles. Abigail Prudames was sensational as the nun, M.M., who seduces Casanova towards the end of the first act. Bellino (Minju Kang) and Henriette (Saeka Shirai) manage to win Casanova’s heart and both danced their multi-layered roles convincingly. Hannah Bateman was suitably imperious as Madame de Pompadour and the Musicians of Filippo Di Vilio, Riku Ito and Kevin Poeung would be hard to better. However, the evening belonged to Joseph Taylor in the title role. On stage for almost the entire performance (think Prince Rudolf in Mayerling), dancing with multiple partners in very strenuous pas de deux, he still managed to fly through the air in all manner of gravity-defying leaps throughout. Not only a dancer and partner of immeasurable strength and stamina, Taylor managed to get the audience on board. Not forgetting the Northern Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Daniel Parkinson, the audience erupted at the end of the show, applauding vociferously – a very well deserved triumph.

Deborah Weiss