You’re thinking sordid love affairs and broken hearts, aren’t you? But Casanova’s story is much more exciting than that, as Kenneth Tindall’s new ballet will prove.
The true story of Casanova is one of the most scandalous and surprising you’ll ever hear. It’s so sensational that you won’t believe it’s real – but it is, and it’s being given the Northern Ballet treatment this March with a brand new production that will première right here in Leeds. Find out the truth behind the man and the reason why Casanova is a must-watch…
Casanova is not the man you think he is
Most people know him as a lover, but he was much more than that. He spoke six languages, travelled the world and started the state lottery in France. He was a genius of his time, but all we remember are his conquests – it’s time to set the record straight.
He was a priest, a musician and a soldier
In reality, Casanova was as accomplished as he was charming – and he lived his life to the full. “Casanova was, for me, a symbol of seduction and lust,” Leading Soloist, Giuliano Contadini, who plays Casanova, told us. “But working on this ballet, I’ve learnt that this was just one of the many faces of Casanova. He was a priest, a soldier, a violinist and a spy, to name just a few. There’s so much more to him than a serial seducer and this ballet will definitely bring that to light. ”
He escaped an inescapable prison
For nine months, Casanova was locked away in the attic-prison of Doge’s Palace. He became one of the disappeared, a prisoner of the Venetian Inquisition – and it was all because of his books. They covered everything from Kabbalah to new sciences, mathematics and alchemy – topics that were considered to be heretical at the time. But they underestimated him, because he climbed out of one window and back into another, walking out of the palace unnoticed. As a result, he was exiled from Venice for most of his adult life.
And he was borderline manic depressive
One of the things that makes Northern Ballet’s production of Casanova really special is the fact Tindall wrote it with Ian Kelly, the man who wrote Casanova’s biography. He’s travelled the world, studying his memoirs, and they held surprises, even for him. “He’s very open and honest in his memoirs. He writes about failure and depression, which was a big surprise given his legend,” he told us. “He wrote to cure his depression, and what we see in the final minutes of the ballet is ultimately how that rescued him. As a human being, as an artist, as a depressive, his answer was to record it all and to luxuriate in the memories – that is why we have this amazing story to tell.”
He didn’t just fall into bed with women, he fell in love with them
Casanova wasn’t just a womaniser. He fell in love many times, and he genuinely cared for the women he bedded. It’s one of the reasons why Choreographer Kenneth Tindall wanted to tell his story. “I think the thing that really draws us in as humans is when you believe the content, and it’s real, and it’s something you can understand,” he told us, and that’s what he saw in Casanova. “It’s not just another notch on his bedpost, he was in touch with most of the women afterwards. In the case of some, he really helped them to get elevated, married and move on and that really tells you something about his frame of mind and the way he feels about women.”
But he did have around 130 conquests
At the end of the day, there’s a reason why Casanova is the world’s most famous lover. His memoirs tell of about 130 conquests, including nuns, courtesans and married women. So if you want to see Northern Ballet at their most seductive, this is the show to watch.
And he lost his virginity to two sisters
As Tindall says, “You can’t make that stuff up.” And you can rest assured that his first time made it into the ballet in spectacular style. In fact, it’s already become one of Contadini’s favourite scenes, “Recently, we were rehearsing a scene where Casanova is seduced by two sisters with a long curtain between them – it’s very ‘you can’t look, but you can touch.'”
It’s a first for Kerry Muzzey, Christopher Oram and Ian Kelly
Tindall wanted to do something new and exciting with Casanova – and what better way to do that than by bringing in people from outside the ballet world? Kerry Muzzey is a film composer, while Christopher Oram and Ian Kelly both work in theatre, the former as a set and costume designer (he’s just been snapped up for the Broadway version of Frozen), and the latter as an actor and writer. They’ve all brought new ideas to table, and that makes Casanova very exciting indeed.
You’ll see Northern Ballet’s female leads in a completely new way
Casanova’s greatest loves both had to pretend they were men, but for very different reasons. Henriette masquerades as a soldier to escape her abusive husband, while Bellino pretends to be a castratti (yep, that’s a dude who’s had his balls chopped off) in order to sing in the Papal States. As you can imagine, that adds a new dimension to the ballet, but it’s also quite tricky, as Leading Soloist, Dreda Blow, explained, “It’s been interesting to learn how to move in a more masculine way because I’ve always played leading ladies. The real Bellino successfully pulled off pretending to be a man for a long time, so she must have been quite convincing – I need to capture that.”
The composer lives 5,000 miles away, so they worked over Skype
What do you do when the composer you’ve chosen to work with lives 5,000 miles away? Skype, of course. Tindall and Muzzey spent hours discussing characters and scenarios, then working through the score, day by day. It took ten months to compose, and they had eight time zones between them, but the result is worth every minute, and every late night.
The glamour of the 18th century has been stripped back to reveal the beauty of the ballet
The costumes are one of the highlights of the production. They have all the glamour of 18th century gowns, but they’ve been deconstructed, so you can see every beautiful movement the dancers make.
The score actually sounds like Venice
Tindall couldn’t have chosen a better composer, although he didn’t know it at the time. You see, Muzzey is obsessed with Venice, it’s his favourite city in all the world, and it’s the inspiration behind the music. “It’s the kind of place that gets under your skin and seeps into your bones,” he told us. “I’m surrounded by piles of Venice coffee table books in my studio, and I have years’ worth of photos to look back on, and many fond memories. Immersing myself in all of that resulted in music that I’m really proud of. I think the score for Casanova actually sounds like Venice.”
No two romances are the same
Although the ballet shows another side of Casanova, it doesn’t shy away from his prolific reputation, so you’ll see him in red hot trysts with his fellow dancers – but don’t worry, it won’t get repetitive, because each romance has its own unique personality. “I think you’ll be intrigued by how we deal with his sex life, how it’s done and how we make each relationship different,” Tindall explained.
There’s so much that you don’t see
Casanova moves from church to masquerade to prison, and we follow the man himself through all the ups and downs of his life, so there are a lot of costume changes in this production. Not only do the dancers have to fly off stage for record-fast changes, but the costume department has been pushed to the limit too. They’ve handmade 120 elaborate masks for the masquerade, individually crafted 60 powdered wigs and dyed 800 pairs of pointe shoes, as well as constructing 30 sets of bucket hoops (they’re the frames that sit under skirts and make them stick out).
The music is beautiful and seductive, but also aggressive and ugly
In many ways, Muzzey’s score is more like that of a film than a ballet. In places, it’s lush and romantic, but then, as it moves to the darker themes, it pulls in common horror-movie techniques that you wouldn’t usually find in the ballet. It’s both beautiful and ugly. “I had a great time writing some of the aggressive and ugly stuff,” he told us. “Orchestral instruments are capable of so many different colours, and you can use them to create ugly things as easily as beautiful things.”
They’ve turned 12 volumes of memoirs into a 100 minute ballet
Casanova wrote 12 volumes, Kelly compacted it down into a 360 page biography and now you can see it played out on stage in just 100 minutes. It is the epitome of action-packed – and you won’t want to miss a minute.
You never know who’s behind the mask
There’s something incredibly sexy about the anonymity of wearing a mask, and perhaps that’s why the 18th century was so rife with debauchery, but they’ll be exploring another side of it in the ballet too. “The interesting thing we’ve been talking about is that when you’re behind a mask, and you don’t know who is on the other side of the all others, you can be quite mischievous, quite flirtatious.” Tindall enthused. “But they were wearing those masks for three quarters of the year due to masquerades and carnival season – can you imagine what that would do to your psyche? That’s something that’s been quite exciting for the dancers and myself to explore.”
Casanova would adore this
Casanova lived a life full of scandal and intrigue, but he was also one of the greatest minds of his generation, and above all else, he wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and philosopher. He’d hate the way people think of him now, but he would love this ballet, because like his memoirs, it captures the effervescence of life.
Northern Ballet’s Casanova will première at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 11th March 2017 and run until Saturday 18th March 2017. If you’re quick, you can bag tickets for just £21 with a free glass of prosecco and 50% off at The Liquorist.Cover image credit: Justin Slee. Photos throughout: Northern Ballet dancers.