In many ways the life of Giacomo Casanova is an unexpected subject for a ballet to be based on. However, Northern Ballet appear to thrive on taking on challenges such as this. Rather than use Casanova’s own memoirs as his starting point, choreographer Kenneth Tindall worked with historian Ian Kelly to adapt the latter’s own biography of Casanova. This was a sensible move, given that Casanova’s Histoire de ma vie is over 3,500 pages long: Kelly’s biography is luckily around a tenth of the length. The result is the sort of incredibly well-polished production audiences have come to expect from Northern Ballet, the set and costume design by Christopher Oram reflecting the opulence of the period, while inflected by a stylised, contemporary, fetishy look.
Yet, perhaps even this succinct and clearly very well-chosen version of the history of Casanova has too much detail in it. The production is just a little too busy, its characters and set constantly on the move, and the unfolding of the story takes much needed time away from the ballet’s more interesting and more intense moments. This is a shame, as when the choreography does snap into focus, for example in the duet between Casanova (the amazing Giuliano Contadini) and M.M. (Ailen Ramos Betancourt), the result is simply incredible.
Unfortunately, Kerry Muzzey’s minimalist score does little to help matters, being rather amorphous and with little for the dancers (or indeed orchestra) to truly engage with. The absence of a genuine build-up of musical tension in the second act, for example, means the ballet ends not with a bang but a whimper.
It is, however, all danced brilliantly and is visually absolutely stunning. It is just that the incredible dancing, the flashes of choreographic brilliance and the great overall look and feel, do not quite add up to a perfect whole.