In his first full-length production, Kenneth Tindall bring Casanova to the stage in a pulsating, raw and sensually driven production
Review by Andrew Steel
Few men lived as varied a life as Giacomo Casanova. Renegade priest first, violinist second, grand tourer third; a womaniser, a prisoner and a scholar. The author of Histoire de ma vie achieved, across the European continent, a polymathic reputation, enhanced only by his daring feats as an adventurer and his lifelong struggle with his devotion to Catholicism. To tackle such a legendary, documented figure as the subject of his first full-length production could have spelt the death-knell for Kenneth Tindall; instead, Northern Ballet’s Casanova triumphs as a magnetic, muscular piece of dance that creates a sensual overload through a decadently rendered minimalism, and worth every moment of its standing ovation.
Working with biographer Ian Kelly, Tindall’s approach to Casanova’s story does not cling to a conventional narrative; across two acts the pair tell chapters of a story, intermittently jumping through time, between formative years in religion and the subsequent era of the man as a bedpost-notching libertine. These episodes are truly set apart by the work of designer Chris Oram, making his ballet debut; a first act of Roman columns and buttoned-up skin gives way to the opulence of Parisian mirrors and sweat-buffed nudity in the second – a pulse-setting shift that plays out over the swelling, captivating score of Kerry Muzzey. Cast in orange and golden hues for the most part, it is a production dialled up to 11 on the sensual scale.
Unlike traditional works, there is no real ebb and flow to the movements Tindall has created, no lithe grace. Instead his characters, from the get-go, are possessed of a throbbing brutalism, boldly sexual and inherently visceral in their physicality. Tindall’s experience in modern dance makes this a thrilling affair, a neo-classical style channelled through a more unorthodox abstract form. Subtlety is blown to hell somewhat – and all the better for it. Javier Torres, taking the lead role for the first time in this premiere, brings an emotional naivety and freighted wisdom to his rippling performance; from the classy threesome he engages in with two red-headed sisters at the dawn of the play, to his rescue of a stricken senator, through his capture by the Inquisition (whose menacing presence manages to banish memories of Monty Python with an effortless ease), he is beyond commanding, a beguiling figure danced with a heft and complexity.
Act Two – which skips past Casanova’s escape from prison, in favour of his womanising – is perhaps a touch more rote than the first half, as Tindall trades out religious agonies for those of the flesh. But even then, as his protagonist screws his way through every individual to cross his path, it is a sumptuous piece, with a brief pas de deux conducted electrifyingly tender. As the curtain falls on its hero, arm raised to the sky as pages of his autobiographical manuscript rain from the heavens, it is a cathartic release of the tension ratcheted throughout the full-throttle production. Casanova isn’t just another ballet; it is an artistic vision a whisper short of a masterpiece and a stunning tour-de-force. The man himself would be proud.
All photography by Emma Kauldhar