Casanova, Sadler’s Wells, London, review: A whirl of fluent choreography and atmospheric staging

Kenneth Tindall’s first evening-length ballet about the notorious lover is another success for Northern Ballet 

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The Independent Culture

Northern Ballet’s Casanova dances deftly through the famous lover’s life. Kenneth Tindall’s new work, his first evening-length ballet, is a whirl of fluent choreography and atmospheric staging, from Venice and the Inquisition to the parties of Paris. Tindall could dig deeper into his characters’ emotions, but this is an assured evening.

Casanova’s sexual exploits have overshadowed the rest of his long and busy life: trainee priest, musician, spy, writer, diplomat, librarian. Born in 1725, he associated with everyone from Madame de Pompadour to Mozart, but is best remembered for the love affairs recorded in his memoirs.

Working with biographer Ian Kelly, Tindall organises this abundant material into a fast-paced tale, his hero leaping from encounter to encounter. The storytelling is crisp and legible, helped by a filmic score by Kerry Muzzey. It’s another success for Northern Ballet, a company that has been confidently expanding its repertory.

Christopher Oram’s designs both evoke the period and play with it. When Giuliano Contadini puts on a frock coat, it’s over a bare chest; the ladies of the French court wear elaborate but very short hooped skirts, cut above the knee and worn with stockings.

Oram’s Venice is dominated by massive pillars and cloaked inquisitors, with Casanova already too light-hearted for this ominous setting. He’s fascinated by books as well as women, taking part in masquerades and music parties. Rather than showing us Casanova’s famous escape over the prison roof, Tindall has him telling the story in Paris, his skill as a raconteur gaining him influential friends.

Tindall finds a language that is varied, explicit but not heavy-handed. At a time when so many choreographers tie female dancers in knots, he avoids dragging the women around. Though the characters are clearly drawn, the speed of the ballet doesn’t leave much time to explore them: perhaps the sexiest pas de deux, between Casanova and Ailen Ramos Betancourt’s MM, is the one that slows right down. Given more time, Henriette and Bellino, both women disguised as men, make more impact.

The dancers of Northern Ballet show clean technique and dramatic conviction throughout. Contadini is a tireless, devoted partner: it’s always clear that his Casanova likes women as well as desiring them. He’s good at suggesting different dynamics, from his tenderness with Hannah Bateman’s touching Henriette to his camaraderie with Ayami Miyata’s lively musician. Dreda Blow is a striking presence as Bellino, another adventurer navigating this 18th-century world.