Northern Ballet’s production of Casanova dances its way into Norwich next month, performed by a company of 30 dancers who play a total of 108 individual characters. They will be bringing with them 60 individually crafted powdered wigs and over 120 dazzling masks, all the better to transport audiences into the decadent world of the 18th century.
This is the story of a man who spent his life as many things – more than just as a lover, he was a priest, a spy, a writer, an escaped prisoner, even a lyricist who helped complete Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni.
Casanova has been brought to the stage with the help of Ian Kelly, author of a major biography of the legendary lover. He worked closely with choreographer Kenneth Tindall to present a cohesive picture of every aspect of Casanova’s life and world.
As well as a historical biographer, Ian is a playwright and actor (he played Hermione’s father in the Harry Potter films). He also lives locally, in the small Suffolk town of Eye. “Casanova the ballet was written there in Eye,” Ian says: “Kenny came to stay with us for a couple of weeks, and we sat down every day to bash out how we could tell the Casanova story, but through dance.”
So why was it that Ian wanted to tell this story? “I find the world and ideas of that time absolutely fascinating. The life of Casanova takes you through all the major cities of the era, and everyone from flower girls to Catherine the Great. 18th century cities were every open, I think, in comparison to now, and he had access to all areas of society.
“That was my aspiration as a writer, and now in this ballet; it’s a recreation of that world, through a real 18th century aesthetic.”
Giacomo Casanova was an ordained priest at a time when the Church’s role was changing, and a man who tangled with the ideas of then-contemporary thinkers like Rousseau and Voltaire. With Ian on board, the ballet doesn’t shy away from exploring those aspects of his life: “Casanova writes in the shadow of the French revolution about a world changing fast, with the feeling that it may never be the same again. And that idea that the world’s going to hell in a handcart has pretty much been a human constant ever since, but he really is trying to make sense of it all.
“And that for him, a lot of the time, takes him to the wonderful closeness of the human heart, to descriptions of the food of the time and accounts of his travels.”
For Ian, it’s for this reason that Casanova’s reputation as a legendary lothario has somewhat unfairly crowded our view of a much fuller life. “He would be appalled by his modern reputation, which is just one aspect of his life which he chooses to discuss. I’ve only ever been impressed with his bravery in that regard. He writes much more about romantic failures than that legend would suggest, he’s actually very moving.
“I never want to be an apologist for him. He’s a disreputable individual in some regards, but that’s irrelevant. He’s much more than the legendary lover, but he is interested in what it means to fall in love.”
So audiences can expect much more than a stereotype from this new show. As Ian says: “he brings a cornucopia of ideas to the table – and so do we in the ballet.”
Casanova is here from 4-8 April, and tickets are available now.