Review: Casanova radiates the wow factor

Hannah Bateman and Joseph Taylor in Casanova. Photo Guy Farrow
Hannah Bateman and Joseph Taylor in Casanova. Photo Guy Farrow

casanova, lyceum

Northern Ballet’s spectacular world premiere has ‘wow factor’ stamped all over it.

Rising young choreographer and ex NT-principal dancer Kenneth Tindall’s bold choice to chronicle the life of the legendary lover as his first full-length ballet has paid off in spades.

To most of us, the name Casanova is synonymous with an arch womaniser, but Tindall has balletically interpreted Ian Kelly’s biography, which revealed a man of considerably more substance – intellectual, writer, man of letters, gambler and violinist.

Inevitably though, it’s Giacomo’s physicality and sexuality that the piece celebrates, set amid a sumptuous backdrop of 18th century Venice, thrillingly recreated by Christopher Oram’s set design of black and gold pillars, and glittering costumes; never have nuns, monks and cardinals looked so overtly sexy.

Composer Kerry Mezzey’s sweeping, cinematic score is at times overwrought but perfectly aligned with the sensual couplings and seductions on stage; in fact the audience is at times in danger of sheer, sensory overload.

At its heart is sensational, star-making performance by Guiliano Contadini with his Errol Flynn moustache, puppy dog eyes and swaggering braggadocio. He reportedly spent six months working out in order to gain the part, which calls for a pretty much perfect torso, constantly on display. Let’s just say it wasn’t six months wasted.

The action follows Casanova through the glamour and decadence of Venice, from vaulted churches and palaces to masked balls and beautifully and tastefully staged orgies, enabling the company to shine in a series of jaw-dropping set pieces and pas de deux. It’s difficult to single out anyone but special praise to Dreda Blow as Bellino, one of Casanova’s lovers, who disguises herself as a male castrato to gain his attention.

At times, without close attention to the programme notes, the storyline is a little confusing. Only later I read that once Casanova rushed after Voltaire to explain his theory of cubic geometry. Such are the occasional limitations of narrative ballet and it doesn’t really matter. It’s a case of sitting back and letting the sheer, sensual pleasure of Northern Ballet at their scintillating best wash over you.

Jane Tadman