There is arguably more appetite than ever before for sexed-up period dramas since the meteoric rise of Bridgerton, and Northern Ballet’s Casanova – returning to The Lowry for the first time since its debut in 2017 – is a prime candidate to benefit from this trend.
Kenneth Tindall’s ballet instantly immerses us in the opulent worlds of 18th century Venice and Paris. Christopher Oram’s splendid set designs are detailed and ingenious: huge, gilded pillars that move to define the space; floor-length silks; a smoking golden thurible suspended above the stage; flickering candles; and a wall of tarnished mirrors that reflect the spotlights, dazzling the audience. The interrogation room of the Venetian Inquisition is created with a section of elaborate cornicing that lowers claustrophobically over the victims.
Kerry Muzzey’s music – played live by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia – is also key in this world-building, as strings and dramatic percussion evoke the sounds of the orchestras of the age. Oram’s costumes draw on elements of 18th century fashion – wigs, masks, cage-style tutus and frock coats – in a modern, provocative way and crucially without weighing down the dancers.
Choreographically, the highlights of the ballet are Casanova’s duets with his various lovers, the acrobatic lifts and entwining bodies clearly influenced by the work of Kenneth MacMillan. The pas de deux with Bellino (danced by Minju Kang) is more contemporary, with jaw-dropping balances and controlled falls that require exceptional trust between the dancers.
Joseph Taylor portrays the eponymous hero as a cerebral character with a rich inner world, frustrated at the painter who insists on trying to depict him as a sex symbol. Casanova’s descent into depression following Voltaire’s rejection of his work – depicted by a swarm of black-masked demons – and his redemption from despair with the idea of writing his memoir have extra power in this context. It is a hugely demanding lead role, with Casanova onstage virtually throughout.
While this ballet may not always convey the intricacies of Casanova’s life that it intends (you will definitely need to read the programme notes), what it does do is transport us to a gorgeous, forbidden world fuelled by sex, religion, parties and philosophy. I challenge you not to be seduced.
Northern Ballet’s Casanova is at The Lowry from 18 -21 May 2022. Age guidance 12+