Sadler’s Wells, London
May 10, 2022
Casanova is now chiefly remembered as a philanderer thanks mostly to his infamous memoirs that ran to twelve volumes. But while that is hardly a defamation, he was much more. By the time that he was 21, he had been variously, an ecclesiastical lawyer, scribe, soldier and violinist, all the time hankering after being a quack doctor. He collected wealthy patrons almost as much as he collected women. As he travelled throughout Europe and Russia, often on the run, he escaped the Inquisition’s prison in a gondola before becoming a spy for the very same Inquisition. There is a lot more.
In their Casanova, author Ian Kelly and choreographer Kenneth Tindall necessarily edit things down, concentrating on the title character’s initial seduction and expulsion from his post as an ecclesiastical lawyer and his supposed disappointment in true love which, we are told, leads him to the abyss and from which he is only rescued by writing.
On the way, there is some excellent dancing and interesting choreography. When Casanova seduces a nun, she delicately removes her huge wimple and reaches her hand across the table to her lover. Then she reaches with her leg, tipped with a pointe shoe. Robert le Diable has definitely lost its monopoly on dancing nuns.
Kelly and Tindall struggle with the monumental task of producing a ballet narrative that works, however. Even with huge chunks of his life missing and having read the programme notes beforehand, the narrative is difficult to follow. The pace is relentless with no time to take in any of the characters fully. What a pity that the one impassioned solo from Joseph Taylor as Casanova comes too late for us to care. Perhaps if we had seen something of this earlier on, it would have been possible to engage.
The work is not helped by Kerry Muzzey’s bland and repetitive score which tries to replace the lack of engagement with actions onstage by forced evocation of emotions: this is the angry bit, this is the romantic bit, and so on. In spite of a superb set by Christopher Oram, lighting by Alistair West (the fogs of Venice and the fug of the incense reproduced excellently), and delicious costumes courtesy of various expert makers, nothing coheres. Too much happens with too many, difficult to identify, characters; and no amount of decadent opulence can disguise it.
Northern Ballet’s Casanova is at Sadler’s Wells to May 14, 2022; then at The Lowry, Salford, from May 18-21. Visit northernballet.com/casanova for details.