More is Less: Balletic Realisation of Casanova’s Life Fails To Grip

27/03/2017

Northern Ballet’s CasanovaDancers of Northern Ballet, Northern Ballet Sinfonia / Nathan Fifield (conductor), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 25.3.2017. (SRT)

Giuliano Contadini as Casanova and Dreda Blow as Bellino in Casanova. Photo Caroline Holden

Giuliano Contadini (Casanova) and Dreda Blow (Bellino)
in Casanova (c) Caroline Holden

Cast included:

Casanova – Javier Torres
Cardinal de Bernis – Dale Rhodes
Manon Balletti – Lucia Solari
M.M. – Hannah Bateman
Father Balbi – Liam Morris
Henriette – Antoinette Brooks-Daw

Production: 

Kenneth Tindall (choreography & original scenario)
Kerry Muzzey (music)
Christopher Oran (set & costume designs)

Brigid Brophy wrote that “the two most fascinating subjects in the universe are sex and the eighteenth century,” and Kenneth Tindall, the choreographer for this show, writes in the programme that “Casanova’s life was epic, and I wanted to do it justice.”

So why wasn’t I more gripped?  This ballet lasts just under two hours but feels like a lot more, and it’s problematic for several reasons.  One of them is the story, not because it’s dull, but because it’s trying to do too much.

Northern Ballet’s approach to dance is almost always narrative, and I take my hat off to them for that: it’s the most accessible form of dance for newcomers.  However, Tindall, a home-grown force who danced for the company for twelve years and who created his own first work for them, has taken Casanova’s autobiography as his inspiration for this piece, and he goes out of his way to depict Casanova in all his rounded achievements as a man of the Enlightenment, not just the walking libido that he is best known as.

In attempting to redress the balance, however, Tindall ends up trying to pack in a vast amount, with nuances and characters that could be picked up by nobody who hadn’t bought a programme and studied the lengthy plot synopsis beforehand.   Consequently, much of the busyness feels like a gallop through some slightly mysterious scenarios, with nebulous characters who aren’t sufficiently distinguished from one another.  For long sections of both acts, I found myself diverted but a little mystified, and I’d read the programme already!  Surely he would have been better to focus on a particular aspect of the man and explore it fully.  The crowbar of the forbidden book and Casanova’s attempts to find redemption through writing feels rather contrived, despite the handsome images it sometimes induces, and when the second act features Casanova explaining his theory of cubic geometry to Voltaire, you can’t help but wonder why this wasn’t cleaned up in the planning process.

Kerry Muzzey’s music is serviceable enough, with hints of Michael Nyman and Philip Glass in its use of undulating repetitions.  Like much film music, however, it works through generating atmosphere rather than melody, despite a few moments of Baroque pastiche, and it seems to act more as wallpaper for the dance than as an independent entity.  Tindall’s actual choreography works pretty well, I thought, with angular geometries for many of the crowd scenes and, best of all, moments of flowing intimacy in the solos and duets.

It’s also undeniably handsome.  In fact, it was this visual aspect that I enjoyed the most and which, I imagine, will stick with most people who see it.  Christopher Oram’s costumes are minor updatings of eighteenth century fashions which are very pleasing, and his set mostly consists of three muscular columns that are made to serve for lots of difference scenarios.  In fact, the designs model the truth of less is more, something the whole concept might have benefited from

Simon Thompson

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