Kenneth Tindall: Casanova, Northern Ballet

March 22, 2017 by


How familiar were you with the Casanova story and how much did this influence your approach?

Kenneth Tindall - Choreographer of Casanova. Photo Simon Lawson
At the start like most, I only knew him as the serial womaniser – the Libertine. I had seen various films so I thought I had an idea of what he was like – basically just a guy who was famous for having a lot of sex. Once I began my research I soon found out that I didn’t know much about the real Casanova at all…
How did you and David Nixon work together?
David Nixon (OBE, Artistic Director at Northern Ballet) was the one who initially guided me into choreographing whilst I was still a dancer with Northern Ballet, and has always been very supportive of my career.

Having supported me with my previous one-act ballets Luminous Junc·ture and The Architect, David and Northern Ballet were keen that I made my first full-length for them. They wanted me to come up with the idea and pitch it to them, because they wanted it to be truly organic – something that I could be passionate about rather than something they had told me to do. We looked at several titles before settling on Casanova.


Giuliano Contadini as Casanova and Hannah Bateman as Henriette in Casanova. Photo Caroline Holden
How restricting did you find narrative dance?
People have called my style abstract, but for me there is no such thing, as all dance comes from a source, and idea, or a narrative. What’s brilliant about Casanova’s story is that there is always room for a fresh perspective. I worked with Ian Kelly, who wrote Casanova’s biography in 2008, to effectively streamline it. With 12 volumes to draw from for a two act ballet, there was more than enough for us to adapt, including moments that haven’t necessarily been seen before. We cherry picked the moments that we thought would represent Casanova best, which would also help us to give the audience an exciting theatrical experience.

This ballet is not a retelling or a reimagining – this narrative of Casanova doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. It’s an interpretation of the truth of his life that is a wholly original story.
How would you describe the difference/challenge/opportunity of moving from your previous work to full length ballet?
A full-length ballet is a real commitment that does carry a huge amount of responsibility. I had a lot to learn about the business side of things and I needed to work with an expert like Ian Kelly (co-scenario writer) to help shape the narrative into an engaging two hour show. I sat down with people who have done this before and asked for their guidance, whilst at the same time testing my desire to find my own way.
Working with Northern Ballet though is like coming home. I already have a rapport with most of the dancers from when I was in the Company so we were able to progress with the ballet quickly, trusting in each other to create a deeper and more fulfilled work. I am truly delighted to have done my first full-length ballet with Northern Ballet – it feels like I’ve come full circle.


Giuliano Contadini as Casanova and Hannah Bateman as Henriette in Casanova. Photo Caroline Holden


What did you wish to achieve through the overall choreography?
I wanted to bring a new perspective to Casanova, which I think the medium of ballet has enabled us to achieve. I knew from the beginning that I didn’t want us to recreate the familiar 18th century clichés of how people and places looked – I feel like that approach would have made Casanova more of a fictional than a real person. And I didn’t want to go down the “memory lane” approach – the curtains opening to an old man writing his memoirs with a series of flashbacks where you hear Vivaldi…

The title immediately lends itself well to ballet – there’s a distinctly operatic grandeur to Casanova. Set against the backdrop of 18th century Venice and Europe, the visuals are alluring and fascinating. It has given us room for large corps numbers as well as lots of truly interesting characters – and of course plenty of room for intimacy.

Through this ballet we hoped to capture the essence and energy of Casanova, using the theatricality of his life to create dance that expresses not just his own character, but the time he lived in. I want to surprise audiences, to give them some different perspectives on the man, because Casanova was a very complex man. There’s much more to him than his now-notorious sex life.
How did you approach the sex in the story?

For me, it was important to keep faith with both the man and the myth. Whilst we don’t shy away from his sexuality in the ballet, we wanted to show that the real Casanova was so far from the sexual deviant and outrageous philanderer we normally see.

Casanova himself would be appalled at what he has been remembered for, he didn’t just use or view women as sex objects. In the ballet we look in particular at his relationship with two important women in his life – Bellino and Henriette. Henriette is trying to escape an abusive husband by pretending to be a male soldier whilst Bellino is also disguised as a man in order to earn a living singing as a castrati. Casanova doesn’t exploit their vulnerability or betray either of them. He cares for them and ultimately both women leave him to find their own future.

Do you regard Casanova as a hero or anti-hero?
I would say that Casanova ticks the boxes of a Byronic hero figure. He lived in a world of masquerade, luxury, intrigue and powerful patrons, but no-one took him seriously or recognised him for his intellect. That perception of him continues to this very day. If you read his memoirs, a very different Casanova emerges. Yes, he had affairs – and he writes about them in a very vivid way – but he’s not collecting lovers, and carving notches on the bed-post. He ultimately became very depressed and even attempted suicide, so there was a definite darkness to him.


New Theatre, Cardiff

April 25 to 29

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