Review: Casanova, Leeds Grand Theatre

Northern Ballet's brand new production, inspired by the life of Giacomo Casanova, is sure to become one of the jewels in the crown of the company's impressive repertoire. It is a truly eye-catching spectacle with a strong narrative thread and stunning choreography.

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

With a life as rich and eventful as Casanova’s the difficulty is in selecting what to include and what to discard but the scenario created by choreographer Kenneth Tindall in collaboration with biographer Ian Kelly perfectly reflects the 18th century Venetian adventurer’s multi-faceted, charismatic personality. A talented and creative polymath Casanova was a man who lived his life absolutely to the full – sensuality was at the core but his committed pursuit of knowledge was just as significant. During his lifetime he wrote books, plays, poetry, philosophical and mathematical treatises and had a varied career that included stints as a trainee priest, violinist, civil servant and librarian. And while the ballet features some of his more famous amorous escapades – including his affairs with a cellist, a nun and a cross-dressing opera singer – it gives equal weight to his intellectual life and his embracing of the liberal thinking of the Enlightenment.

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Tindall’s choreography is fluid and muscular, stylish and exhilarating. In the lead role Guiliano Contadini is a commanding physical presence and Tindall gives him some memorable moments in which he gets the opportunity to show the complexity of Casanova’s character – at times self-regarding and predatory, at others tender and vulnerable. Other individual performances that stand out are Ailen Ramos Betancourt as seductive nun ‘M.M’ and Hannah Bateman as unhappy wife Henriette, but some of the most powerful scenes in the ballet feature the whole ensemble when Tindall creates some truly breathtaking shapes with his supremely talented dancers.

Christopher Oram’s set design is bold and monumental, communicating the grandiose opulence of the era – the opening scene in a Venetian cathedral is magnificent – and the costumes are exquisite, acknowledging the period but with an added contemporary flourish. Kerry Muzzey’s original specially commissioned music similarly makes reference to the musical cadences of the time while also bringing a stirring cinematic quality and is reminiscent of the some of the great orchestral scores of old Hollywood. All in all, a must-see production – the standing ovation at the end of the first night performance was entirely deserved.