Northern Ballet: Casanova (3 stars)


credit: Emma Kauldhar

Sumptuous design steals the show in Northern Ballet's portrayal of the world's most famous lover

Having carved out a niche in literary ballets – The Great Gatsby, Dracula, Wuthering HeightsNorthern Ballet now turns its hand to biography with this re-telling of the life of Casanova, based on Ian Kelly's non-fiction book. It's fair to say the company's style is rooted in certain trademarks including clarity of storytelling and simple, classically-influenced choreography, and in this sense Casanova follows suit.

It would be misleading to call it a family-friendly ballet, however as adaptations of the lives of 18th century bisexual adventurers go, the piece has rather a prime time feel. Kerry Muzzey's original score, with its intrigue and flashes of passion, would be well at home in Hollywood, while Kenneth Tindall's choreography fluctuates from the literal – bodies wracked with torture, menacing inquisitors, courtly masquerading – to stiffly stylised dalliances of the eponymous hero with his lovers.

What steals the show is the visual design; lighting, costume and set. Perruques, panniers, stockings, waistcoats, frock coats, and oodles of masks conjure up a fantasia of Rococo fashion, while arresting touches like the flash of scarlet or violet on an otherwise murky stage, or the strange geometry of a nun's headpiece, bring to life the ecclesiastical theatre of old Venice.

The contrasting masquerades of Venice and Paris are nicely imagined, the former a streamlined bondage black and gold affair, the latter a jewel box of pastel silk and mirrors. A Paris salon also provides the ballet's finest – sadly too swift – set piece, a sort of 18th century Fosse routine with pannier-caged courtesans prowling on spotlit chairs.

This Casanova may not set diehard dance purists' hearts on fire, but Northern Ballet has dreamt up an inviting world, rich in the seductive tropes of the 18th century.

Reviewed at Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Touring until Sat 13 May.

Northern Ballet: Casanova

An original scenario by Ian Kelly and Kenneth Tindall which seeks to unmask the legendary lothario. Presented by Northern Ballet with live music from Northern Ballet Sinfonia.

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