Casanova – Festival Theatre

Choreographer: Kenneth Tindall

Original Scenario: Kenneth Tindall & Ian Kelly

Decadence and debauchery: terms that readily come to mind when thoughts turn to Giacomo Casanova. For many, this image is synonymous with adultery, womanising and sexual deviance. Instead, Kenneth Tindall’s adaptation for the Northern Ballet company’s production of Casanova offers a look at the passion, pain and grandiose lifestyle behind the name.

From the ensuing prologue until the closing grand ballabile, the strength, ferocity and talent of Northern Ballet is monumental. The memoirs of Casanova are often documented as one of the most insightful references into social practices of 18th century Europe. To condense twelve volumes into two hours is commendable, it charts Casanova’s ‘fall from grace’ during his early priesthood, through Venetian court to the birth of Casanova as the entertainer, gambler, adventurer and author.

Unlike more traditional ballets, there is no female lead. Instead, the company comprises ballerinas who play pivotal roles such as the Savorgnan sisters, who have the initial hand(s) in Casanova’s corruption. Rather, Tindall and Kelly have been clever in their use of the ballerinas, Bellino and Henriette, Casanova’s two major lovers, both masquerade as men, one out of necessity, the other fear.

The success of the story of Casanova is down, primarily, to Giuliano Contadini. From the entrée, Contadini makes an impression. His physical strength and delicacy are enviable. Commendable too is Contadini’s acting ability. Following an emotive and personal pas de deux with Hannah Bateman as Henriette, in which her affair is revealed to her husband, we witness Contadini’s visceral explosion of rage. From conventional light pieces with the sisters and Henriette to a more modern influence of heavily stylised symbolism with the monks, the range of movement is expansive, Contadini and the company rising to all challenges.

This precise movement only reaches such elevated visual heights with the help of complementary lighting, score and design. Indeed, to say that Christopher Oram’s work is awe inspiring, borders on simplistic. Combined with Alastair West’s lighting, what is generated is an ever-evolving atmosphere. Skeletal gowns of all shades, drape the dancers.

Oram’s costumes, used in tandem with the lighting, further instil a sense of wonder and depth. Penetrating bursts of red assault, quite suddenly, the darkness from the Head Inquisitor, then suddenly vanish into the blackness. Madame de Pompadour’s lavishness contrasts heavily with the bound chest of Bellino. What is achieved with these dissected costumes is a paradoxical balance between the majesty of 18th Century glamour stripped back to expose the technique and artistry of the ballet beneath.

Casanova is a production devoid of fault. It is a piece of sublime art, accessible to all and one that should be re-lived and shared.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/casanova-festival-theatre-edinburgh/

Production information: https://northernballet.com/casanova

Photos Guy Farrow, Emma Kauldhar, Caroline Holden, and Justin Slee.

Ballet Black – The King’s Theatre

Founder and Artistic Director – Cassa Pancho

Choreographers – Martin Lawrence, Sophie Laplane and Mthuthuzeli November

Desgins – Yann Seabra and Peter Todd

Marking their 18th season in March, Ballet Black bring their world premiere to the UK. Now in Scotland, Edinburgh is honoured to play host to contemporary ballet performers with cutting edge dance forms married into tradition. A trio of pieces, each as staggeringly impressive as the last, serve to showcase the immeasurable talents of this troupe. From the combative piece Pendulum to the glorious colours in Click, closing with the downright hauntingly gorgeous Ingoma.

Dance conjures emotion. Emotion fuels dance. The two are inseparable in productions of movement. Pendulum, choreographed by Martin Lawrence finds dancers Sayaka Ichikawa & Mthuthuzeki November gradually succumbing to a closeness which cuts through aggressive competition. There’s no accompanying score to start with. It’s jarring, but its intent is clear – focus on the movement and the athleticism of each muscular movement. These dancers create their own rhythm within one another, synchronising without a beat to rely on.

From the open scape of pale light, Click could not be more different, certainly standing as the most energetically colourful of the trio. It is a piece which openly blends multiple dance forms, highly creative in its designs by Yann Seabra and explores the multitude of ways we can interpret such a simple action. To click, can mean to hurry, to silence or of course, in time to the beat. Our five performers are led by Isabela Coracy, clad in a shade of yellow only she could pull off. Contrasting Pendulum, the troupe is dressed in vivid tones. They explode in vibrancy as the spotlights strike off these colours. Beginning with a group piece set to the medley of scores, we break off into separate performances. Coracy’s is exhilarating, disgustingly cooler than anything most of the room will ever accomplish. Jose Alves and Cira Robinson’s duet captures the intensity of movement. Set to a more serious tone by To Rococo Rot’s composition, the colours shift from light-hearted and fun to dark passion. In a blitz, we return to the rainbow spectrum, the clicks growing faster and flurries of feet flash amidst the fusing rainbow of lights – making for a terrific end to the first half.

It is Ingoma, however, which sets Ballet Black apart from the rest. We move from the straight medium of dance to one of pure storytelling. Choreographed by November, danseur of the first piece, it depicts the African Mine Worker’s Strike of 1946. The scene is laid before us, the gravel and coals spilled onto the stage as the company don hard hats and pickaxes. There is no rush with Ingoma, time is taken to build atmosphere, leading to a dramatic, drawn out payoff of sublime emotional beauty.

The sun beating on their backs, the Isicathulo techniques of heavy stomps, synchronise perfectly with the foreboding score. Ingoma tells the story, not only of a young miner who perishes but of those left behind, arguably the real point of the narrative. In terms of dance technique, this is human. The tie between pathos and movement is gorgeous. We see every muscle, flex and sharp pinpoint movement, as Ebony Thomas is illuminated by the gleam of the hardhats, before the dusty air envelopes him.

On occasion, dancers engage en pointe, a firm reminder of the tribute to the artforms core movements. Ichikawa’s performance transcends this beauty, adding the desperation of loss. The more she dances, the more physically exhausting the performance feels. Ballet usually makes us see the performers as neigh superhuman, holding poses and leaping in ways we cannot. Ichikawa strips this back, collapsing in the moment, she is lifted. For just like the workers, exhaustion is no excuse to stop. So she dances. Dances for the pain and for those still suffering on the sidelines.

Ballet, traditionally, has a glossy aesthetic. Primped and polished until it glows with pride. This contributes quite heavily to its image as a high-class artform, pushing its perceived accessibility away. Ballet Black, however, is raw movement of the utmost standard. Its polish comes from capable dancers, it’s aesthetic shifts from natural dusk to a blaze of colours in what is a remarkable evening, redefining the rules of ballet.

Images & Production Information: https://balletblack.co.uk/

Emil & The Detectives – Traverse Theatre

Image contribution: Andy Rasheed

by Erich Kästner, adapted for the stage by Nicki Bloom

Who’s in the mood for an adventure? Adapted by Nicki Bloom from Erich Kästner’s 1929 novella, this production of Emil & The Detectives receives the full treatment from Slingsby Productions, displaying their signature style of intimate storytelling with cinematic undertones.

Every child dreams of adventure, and for us country kids, the greatest experience was a jaunt to the big city. For Emil, a trip to the capital offers excitement, intriguing characters, but also exposure to the harshness of greed. When a slick thief, armed with a silver tongue and bowler hat, steals her money, Emil will stop at nothing to reclaim what’s rightfully hers.

This is children’s theatre at its most sublime, with a diverse range of narrative methods that keep the audience engaged and entertained throughout. Emil & The Detectives has no issue keeping its audience transfixed on the wonders onstage – it uses lighting, audience interaction, soundscapes and illustrations to keep the show both magical and pacy. Playing with the dualities of light and dark, miniature and grand, Wendy Todd’s design work is reminiscent of the cinematic tones of Wes Anderson. 

Don’t be fooled: this hasn’t been made exclusively for the young ones. Never resorting to cheap, hidden gags for mums and dads, its ingenuity and solid performances will appeal to the imagination of any spectator. Elizabeth Hay is masterful: while she makes an adorable Emil, capturing childlike innocence, she also conveys a striking, guttural determination.

An entire company of performers, however, would struggle to convey a cast of characters as well as Tim Overton, who plays the production’s statue, narrator, Emil’s mother and the thief. His energy is astounding, and the dedication to each character – ensuring there are enough variations in his performances to separate them – is commendable.

The show’s use of illustration is also effective. Some are the works of visiting children; many are animations by the talented Luku Kukuku. These, in tandem with Andy Ellis’ graphics, make Emil & The Detectives a piece of visual art in its own right. A remarkable show that isn’t just for children, Emil & The Detectives is for anyone who enjoys a good old-fashioned story, told with warmth, heart and sheer inventive skill. 

Review originally published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/emil-the-detectives-traverse-theatre-edinburgh

Production Information: https://www.slingsby.net.au/production/emil-and-the-detectives/