A Ballet about Lust, Violence & Redemption
Northern Ballet never fail to deliver, and for me there is one production stands out above all the others: Kennith Tindale’s Casanova (2017).
The ballet leads to us through a series of relationships that tell us of Casanova’s psychological development and lust, and meets its final crescendo in the desolation of a rakes progress and then a redemption. The Ballet is populated with characters that we have all met.
Tindale’s choreography and Kerry Mussey’s neo-baroque score pushes us from scene to scene, it feels like we are dreaming. The dancers sumptuous costumes on golden Rococo stage sets, the evocative lighting that never lets our imaginations flounder.
I believe Kennith Tindale is a choreographer to watch. The way he plays on mental complexity and themes that are familiar to the modern “me-to” audiences of today is timely, and he reminds me of Macmillan’s masterpieces of the 1970’s
It was my lockdown challenge to create this gallery of images with words. It is as yet an unfinished project.
The Ballet – as I experience it
Act I – Venice
- Cardinal de Bernis enters the church,
- he is all smoothness and eyes.
- Stepping in his silken footsteps
- the captured souls of Christ follow to him to an altar.
- There are times he leads them to gilded palaces
- where the higher Authorities are blind,
- and he unwraps of their forbidden pleasures
- But today is not one of those days.
- Today is a mass for the eyes of his public.
- This great day they are in the Basilica di San Marco
- celebrating his holy eminence’s arrival in Venice
- From high clerestory windows
- light shafts through air that is laden with the sounds of bells
- to touch cool slabs of stone far below.
- where novices have entrained their bodies
- to a single rhythm,
- and prostrate their spirits
- to an almighty power.
- Raising their torsos to reach the light,
- their gowns flowing on air.
- they spin like dervishes,
- worshipping in unison,
- Across the great church a congregation is gathering.
- Sisters in pointed white coronates
- kneeling on pews,
- and crossing their white breasts
- they lift their loving faces to the Cardinal,
- that they might glide with him
- in the purity of God
- and music of the heavens.
- His holiness
- recites the liturgy from the altar
- shepherding his flock like a fox
- he offers himself for their redemption
- From the back of the nave a furry shuffles,
- For a moment the nuns rapped attention
- is unwrapped!
- Casanova is arriving late,
- with his pupils;
- young girls in satin
- Father Balbi,
- his wild eyes flashing,
- with subversion all too noisy
- to go unnoticed,
- is straying again
- How can they not know?
- How can they not see such blasphemy?
- How can they not see him thrust a book into Casanova’s hands?
- The priest scuttles like a crab ,
- stumbling amongst shadows,
- looking for a rock to hide under.
- He reels, drunken,
- in his ears the scraping sounds
- of iron on anvils
- and chains in steel hands
- THEY are approaching!
- THEY who come in the dark to twist bodies
- and scour the unclean stains
- from sinner’s thoughts
- THEY are coming to the squeeze his blemishes dry,
- THEY are approaching
- Steel fingers wrap around his limp body
- and flop him like a ragdoll,
- another vessel of Satan’s infection
- reclaimed by the servants of Rome
- for cleansing.
- Casanova is riveted by the book
- he uses his arms to understand its meaning
- The Savorgnan sisters
- Two innocent girls,
- not innocent at all,
- run their fingers over their music teacher’s bare arms.
- he strokes their tummies with his bow.
- and they romp under silken cloth
- frolicking in exotic joy.
- The cares of youth
- undisturbed by the cares of an intrusive world
- that cares too much.
- like cats they pounce on their prey
- The fun is over,
- Casanova stands on an unknown threshold,
- a violin in one hand
- a forbidden book in the other
Senator Bragadin’s Masquerade
- Senator Bragadin
- wears his heart on his cheek.
- Love smiles in his eyes
- as he flutters like a butterfly
- plucking desires like dreams from the air
- his palace is laden with the harmonies of violins
- and the mellow tones of a cello
- on whose curves
- Casanova practices
- long melodies of sex and love
- The Masked Ball
- come from darkened corners,
- in threads of green and gold.
- When beautiful Balleti‘s strings are bowed,
- sweet harmonies her body sings.
- To her melodies
- The outstretched legs of the guests
- rhythm the room
- with ribboned wigs
- and silken stockings,
- Around their host
- his masked guests in formations dance
- but the Senator’s eyes
- fix on Casanova
- who plays with his new instrument,
- and against whose radiance
- the whole room seems dark
- their work done,
- the music fades,
- and the guest depart.
- The young Casanova
- and his beautiful Balleti
- like two moths into the darkness flutter.
- in dark alleyways
- they linger to hold hands
- and kiss
- innocent of their danger
On their way to find a gondola, Casanova and Balletti are set upon by thieves. She escapes but Casanova is robbed of his wages – though not his book – and left for dead. Bragadin appears. He takes Casanova back to his palazzo, tends to his wounds and shows him his library of philosophical and forbidden works. Bragadin attempts to seduce Casanova but his efforts are curtailed when the senator suffers a stroke. Casanova administers basic medical aid, guided by his book. Bragadin credits Casanova with his recovery and declares him his heir. Casanova’s elevated status does not go unnoticed by the Three Inquisitors.
A mass is said in celebration of Bragadin’s recovery, presided over by Cardinal de Bernis. As Casanova leaves, a note from a nun ‘M.M’ is passed to him. Meanwhile at the prison of the Inquisition, under torture to confess who has the forbidden book, Father Balbi gives up Casanova’s name.
Following the instructions on the note, Casanova arrives at Cardinal de Bernis’ luxurious private apartments. M.M. arrives and sets about a staged seduction of Casanova for the benefit of her hidden lover, the voyeur de Bernis. Suddenly they are interrupted by Bragadin who warns Casanova that the Inquisition is coming for him. Casanova tries to flee Venice but he is caught and imprisoned.
- On Cardinal ‘s altar
- is an angel in white satin,
- her red lips as sticky as honey
- and such fertile hips
- and thighs so strong
- and open?
- with what presumption
- did her creator seed her thoughts so full of dreams,,
- and bless her with a longing
- to be be satiated by divinity alone?
- Into Casanova’s frame
- her repressed Beauty and desire,
- He raises her loveliness
- in his muscled arms,
- to teasingly exhibit her beauty to the heavens
- that the perfection,
- by her creator’s jealousy bound,
- will at last be seen and celebrated
- Such heretics are what God,s watching emissaries relish,
- to rid the world
- they must be hunted down
- The Chase and Capture
- Clanking sounds,
- the scraping of iron
- fill Casanova’s ears
- he raises his arms
- as the ceiling descends
- to crush his wicked sensuality
Act II – Paris
Bellino and Henriette
- Bellino breast are being bound
Two women, Bellino and Henriette are leading almost parallel lives. Bellino’s brother persuades her to dress like him so she can masquerade as a male castrato singer. Elsewhere Henriette is subjected to violent abuse by her husband. She dresses as a soldier and flees, leaving her baby.
At the gaming table
At a Paris gaming salon a poorly dressed hustler, Casanova, attracts attention as he tells the story of his escape from prison, moving from table to table advising the players on tactics. Madame de Pompadour arrives and in the corner a group of soldiers sit, including the disguised Henriette who intrigues Casanova but flees when her husband enters. Observing everything, Madame de Pompadour asks Casanova to be brought over where he tells her the story of his escape. Feeling they are kindred spirits she takes him to Versailles and becomes his benefactor.
Casanova, now rich, carefree and reckless, sets about the social and sexual conquest of Paris.
Dancing on the Precipice
Casanova throws a party. He auditions musicians and amongst them is his old acquaintance Balletti. Bellino too earns a place and Casanova, uncertain of her true gender, is perturbed and intrigued by her. A great party ensues but as it comes to a close, Casanova is left on his own. He picks up a book and begins to write.
- Bellino feels safe behind her mask,
- safe to be passionate
- and to be seen by her audience,
- she becomes herself by hiding herself
- Mask to mask,
- uncovered and uncovered,
- who are you?
- who am I?
- Dare we know each other?
- All that is left are memories
- thinner than air
Casanova poses at his desk while an artist paints his portrait. He is determined to be depicted as an intellectual.
Bellino arrives, admires Casanova’s intents as a writer and in turn, shares her secret – that she is a woman. Liberated, leaves. Casanova returns to his writings and works feverishly before gathering his papers to take to the printers.
Casanova stumbles into Henriette. She reveals her tragic story and moved, Casanova offers her shelter…and more. Madame de Pompadour arrives; she has arranged a meeting between Casanova and Voltaire. Suspecting Casanova is hiding someone, she and Voltaire leave. Casanova begs Henriette to wait for him and rushes off after Voltaire to whom he confidently explains his theory of cubic geometry, only to be mocked.
Casanova experiences love
In Casanova’s absence Henriette’s husband arrives and convinces her to leave with him. Casanova returns to his apartment and finds Henriette has gone with only a letter left behind. Despondent, he attempts to escape into the world of sensuality.
Henriette unexpectedly returns and finding her worst fears about Casanova confirmed, rejects him forever.
Increasingly haunted by visions of his past, Casanova goes to throw himself into the abyss
A single page flutters down and Casanova is brought back from the brink by the simple thought of writing. Former lovers and figures from his past dance in his mind’s eye, the human touch of history to be memorialised in his History of My Life.
The music sings of sex