Casanova – Northern Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, London, 9 May 2017

New house, as they almost say in Italy

I said whimper, not wimple. Northern Ballet’s Casanova could do with a heads-up.

When will I be able to watch a new story ballet without having to read the synopsis first in order to understand it? There’s no question that a full-length narrative without words is tricky, and Northern Ballet’s Casanova was also Kenneth Tindall’s first attempt, but even so, there were some frustratingly essential markers completely missing. What was the importance of the red book that got Casanova and others imprisoned and tortured? What was the big bunch of papers that Casanova so clearly treasured in the second half? Who was the woman dressed as a man who it looked like he might have fallen in love with? Why did a nun seduce him and why was a priest watching from behind a door?

There were many such questions in a ballet overflowing with people, and I’m not going to harp on about it, but the net result is that it was difficult to care about any of them – why should you when you don’t know who they are or why they’re doing anything? The synopsis should be there to enhance what you’re watching, not to be absolutely crucial reading before the curtain goes up.

Enough moaning; there was still plenty to admire in this work. There was some lovely choreography that generally kept things interesting; the bandage-unravelling pas de deux between Casanova and Bellino was particularly good and packed with emotion. Tindall is also very good at seduction scenes; the alluring fluidity of Abigail Prudames and Minju Kang’s Savorgnan sisters was a case in point.

Although he lacked the personal magnetism that the real-life lover-boy must have had, Giuliano Contadini was a hard-working Casanova and made an excellent partner for the many women that passed through his hands. Unfortunately, these women’s appearances were generally so fleeting that they didn’t have much chance to make a big impact; the most successful was undoubtedly Dreda Blow, whose coyly understated portrayal of Bellino made her stand out from the debauched crowd.

Christopher Oram’s opulent staging was both practical and fabulous and his stylised 18th century costumes were magnificent. Alastair West’s lighting was almost like a rock concert at times but somehow managed to evoke a superb sense of time and place, unlike Kerry Muzzey’s specially commissioned film-like score which, especially in the first half, paid little attention to what was happening on stage. Overall though, this was by no means a bad ballet, it was just annoyingly difficult to fall in love with. Which isn’t like Casanova at all.

Northern Ballet’s Casanova runs at Sadler’s Wells until 13 May 2017 and tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

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