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Casanova at Sadler’s Wells, London | Review

Northern Ballet’s Casanova is a terrifically enjoyable show of flare and drama thrillingly performed. Attendance is the guarantee of an enjoyable evening.

Aerys Merrill and Julie Nunès in Casanova. Photo Riku Ito.
Aerys Merrill and Julie Nunès in Casanova. Photo Riku Ito.

The ballet, choreographed by Kenneth Tindall, is the story of the life of Giacomo Casanova from the young man aspiring to be a priest first encountered on stage who is transformed by his contact with the sumptuous, alluring debauchery and dangers of eighteenth-century Venice in the first act, Paris in the second. Casanova told his own story in his memoir, History of My Life, and this is used both as a source and a reference in this show.

It’s refreshing to see a man as the central character in a ballet. In classical ballet most often a woman takes this role with men as their, often inconstant, lovers. This change in emphasis is successful in Casanova as this ballet looks to bring an understanding beyond the conventional trope of a privileged male being no more than a sexist sexual user of female bodies.

Joseph Taylor who danced the role of Casanova on opening night at Sadler’s Wells is a tall, rangey, athletic dancer bringing great presence to the stage. What a pleasure it was to watch him perform and to wonder at times how he did what he did, knowing the answer is strength from work as well as talent. He is also able to portray emotions and can bring likeability, essential for this role.

The show is erotic and the audience does catch this sense and finds both pleasure and energy there. ‘Erotic’ is not to be confused with crude, blatant or pornographic which it is not. There are codes of repetition within the choreography readily observed as the show progresses, the use of tables even to describe the distance of first romantic interest is brilliant. The choreography and dancing in portrayals of encounters is fantastic, the company often moving at high speed. In particular, there is a pas de deux of transcendent dance brilliance between Joseph Taylor and Abigail Prudamas at the end of the first act that on opening night propelled a thrilled audience into the interval. The lifts, the drops, the trust, their strength and extensions of limbs were staggering.

The visuals are superb and dramatic throughout, from the set to the stunning costumes, wigs and make-up. All involved deserve the highest praise. Casanova is only playing for four nights at Sadler’s but the set never suggests temporary, so substantial and gorgeous and clever it is. Christopher Oram, who is responsible for the set and costume design, is to be congratulated.

In addition to the visual delights, there is a 50-strong orchestra playing in the orchestra pit. The music by Kerry Muzzey, newly composed, sounds as if it should always have existed and leads the audience through the drama. The resonance of a bell being struck again tells you there’s about to be another change for Casanova.

Oddly, the only part where the show becomes less engrossing is partway through the second act where Casanova finally falls in love and seeks redemption, though, for example, the use of posture as distance in the choreography along with hands as masks is lovely. Perhaps it was the great difference in size between the two performers as partners (though this allows Casanova to describe he has learnt empathy for fragility) or perhaps it was because we had been shown all the secrets of his love before their encounters – Casanova thinks she is a boy when he falls for her. However, once this love has been explored the ballet snaps back into being riveting with a gorgeous and moving tableau describing the passing of those characters who had peopled Casanova’s life, as characters pass through our own.

Go and see this ballet, you won’t regret it.

4 stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

Northern Ballet is bringing history’s most notorious lover back to stages across the country with their sensual ballet Casanova. Returning for the first time since 2017, the production transports audiences to 18th century Venice, telling the story of the infamous Italian adventurer in a seductive masquerade of passion and politics. Casanova will open at Sadler’s Wells in London from 10 – 14 May, before heading to Salford from 18- 21 May 2022.

In Northern Ballet’s Casanova, the fiercely intellectual Giacomo Casanova leads a controversial life consumed by his desires. He dabbles in careers as a scam artist, violinist, alchemist and church cleric but with a penchant for gambling and women, his exploits lead him into a whirlwind of scandal and excess resulting in imprisonment and exile. Complex emotional themes from love and longing to insecurity and depression, as well as the deep connection to the women in his life, are explored in a true story so sensational you won’t believe it’s real – showing Casanova is so much more than the infamous lover we know.

Production Credits
Choreography Kenneth Tindall
Original Scenario Ian Kelly and Kenneth Tindall (adapted from Ian Kelly’s biography of Casanova)
Music Kerry Muzzey
Set & Costume Design Christopher Oram
Wig & Makeup Design Richard Mawbey
Lighting Design Alastair West


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