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Legendary lothario Casanova is brought to life in Northern Ballet’s lavish show

PUBLISHED: 17:01 31 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:01 31 March 2017

Giuliano Contadini as Casanova, Victoria Sibson as Madame de Pompadour and Northern Ballet dancers in Casanova. Picture: Emma Kauldhar

Giuliano Contadini as Casanova, Victoria Sibson as Madame de Pompadour and Northern Ballet dancers in Casanova. Picture: Emma Kauldhar

Emma Kauldhar

His name is synonymous with being the ultimate ladies’ man, but Kenneth Tindall’s production at Norwich Theatre Royal shows there was a lot more to history’s most notorious womaniser than depravity and decadence.

Javier Torres as Casanova with Northern Ballet dancers in Casanova. Picture: Emma KauldharJavier Torres as Casanova with Northern Ballet dancers in Casanova. Picture: Emma Kauldhar

History’s most notorious womaniser is at the heart of Northern Ballet’s new production. Choreographer Kenneth Tindall’s lavish production chronicles the life of Casanova.

Very often, those who work hard play hard, and nowhere is this more ably demonstrated than in the life of legendary lothario. He was irresistible to women with a chequered love-life but he was also incredibly intelligent and his no-holds-barred life was in complete contrast to the buttoned-down nature of 18th century Venice.

And it was this multi-layered character which appealed to Tindall creating his first full-length work for his old company that chronicles the life of this controversial figure.

He explained: “I wanted to be certain it was something that could work for their core audiences but would maybe also branch out and go for a new audience too. It also needed to be true to my vision of what I wanted to do as a choreographer.

Casanova launched at Norwich Theatre Royal. Choreographer Kenneth Tindall, left, and Suffolk-based writer Ian Kelly, right, whose expertise was vital to the production. Picture: Antony KellyCasanova launched at Norwich Theatre Royal. Choreographer Kenneth Tindall, left, and Suffolk-based writer Ian Kelly, right, whose expertise was vital to the production. Picture: Antony Kelly

“I felt everyone knows the 18th century and it could really work as a ballet with the masquerades and the gambling halls and all the things you would really hope to see in a piece like this.”

One of the key planks of the creative process was finding the right team to work with and Suffolk-based writer and Casanova expert and biographer Ian Kelly ticked that box.

Kenneth said: “To take subjects as vast as 18th century Venice and Casanova’s memoirs, you really need a resource of someone who knows that detail. When I began my research, Ian’s name kept coming up again and again. Not only has he written Casanova’s biography, he is also an actor, historian and playwright and has a wealth of experience in a similar world to my own. I thought this is the man for the job. He had also never worked in ballet before so we have got his fresh perspective.”

And Ian’s in-depth knowledge also helped Kenneth create a much more rounded portrayal of the lead character. “I only knew Casanova as the lover and the man of many partners. I was fascinated to discover there was so much to him. I am really excited to share his intellect and other parts of his personality with audiences. They will come away learning so much as well as experiencing that incredibly decadent world of Venice in the 1870s.”

Dreda Blow as Bellino and Giuliano Contadini as Casanova in Casanova. Picture: Emma KauldharDreda Blow as Bellino and Giuliano Contadini as Casanova in Casanova. Picture: Emma Kauldhar

Casanova certainly had a colourful life. As well as his legendary libido, he was also a trainee priest who was kicked out of the church, a very accomplished violinist, spoke many languages, started the first State Lottery in France and is even reputed to have helped Mozart write the libretto for Don Giovanni.

So with so many plotlines and characters to work with, the next stage is actually bringing the story to the stage. “I wanted to give it a modern edge but do it respectfully taking inspiration from the 18th century, deconstruct it for a new audience and ensure it had something for everyone,” he said.

And he assembled an incredible team to help him and Ian make the production reality. Christopher Oram, who previously worked on the RSC’s Wolf Hall and is currently bringing the musical version of Disney’s Frozen to life on Broadway, was recruited to spearhead the set and costume design with a brief to bring the decadence of the era alive.

Kenneth said: “Christopher is a period specialist who has never worked with dance before. I wanted someone who knew the rules of the era but could also deconstruct the look. Dancers train every day to have these wonderful bodies, and classical ballet is all about the lines. We needed this 18th century texture and look. Chris had to deconstruct the costumes to within an inch of their life while also ensuring they accurately represented the era.”

That mix of the traditional and modern was also important musically, so the Los Angeles-based film and TV composer Kerry Muzzey was brought on board. “It was really important to think how the music would work. I didn’t want a scene of Casanova writing his memoirs while some Vivaldi is playing. There is nothing wrong with that but it has already been done,” recalled Kenneth.

So now after months of work, the production makes its Norwich Theatre Royal debut on April 4-8 shortly after a glittering premiere in the company’s home city of Leeds.

For Kenneth, it will be a very proud moment. He first joined Northern Ballet back in 2003 and in addition to his on-stage credits, has worked on a number of smaller-scale pieces for them as well as creating work for a wide range of other companies and organisations including L-Universita ta Malta, Ballet Central, and productions in association with the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet.

His peers are also recognising his flair and talent with a nomination for the Emerging Artist prize at last year’s National Dance Awards, and the title of Best Young Choreographer at the inaugural Taglioni European Ballet Awards.

Ailen Ramos Betancourt as MM and Giuliano Contadini as Casanova in Casanova. Picture: Emma KauldharAilen Ramos Betancourt as MM and Giuliano Contadini as Casanova in Casanova. Picture: Emma Kauldhar

Now the eyes of the dance world are on Kenneth as Casanova’s first UK tour gets under way and he is very excited at how things are going. “It is full circle for me to do my first full-length piece with Northern Ballet. I am really happy and it definitely feels like I am in the right place,” he said.

And he reserves strong praise for Northern Ballet’s artistic director David Nixon. “I have to give big thanks to him about how brave he is being with it. He is telling me to push and challenge everything. He wants it to be a visual feast but also wants me to challenge the narrative of it. It is so brave of a director in the current tough climate when projects are so box office dependant, so I have major respect for him. Of course, it is also a great gift to be able to return to somewhere where you have spent most of your dancing career,” said Kenneth.

Decadent, lavish, beautiful and mind-blowing this will be a production to remember from one of Britain’s most exciting and dedicated choreographers.

• Casanova, Norwich Theatre Royal, April 4-8, 7.30pm, 2.30pm April 6/8, £37.50-£8, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk


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