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.

Women in Parliament – Lauriston Hall

Original Play – Aristophanes

New Translation by Andrew Wilson

Stage Director and Design by Michael Scott

Tickets available for June 27th and 28th from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

In translating, an impressive feat, to begin with, Andrew Wilson does an exceptional job in capturing the original structure, satire and levity of Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae or Women in Parliament. It has all the comforts of ancient Greece; hookers, cross-dressing and poo, but it has a distinct Lothians stamp of lively dance, song and self-depreciation.

Athens of the North, Edinburgh to you and I. She shares a tremendous amount with her sister to the South, they both value a feast, a tremendous sense of culture and a responsibility towards democracy, right? Well, far from it really. Time moves forward, we evolve, we advance – but politics roughly remains the same. An assortment of privilege, wealth and lacking in diversity. Aristophanes wrote a series of plays in which the foolishness of men, was highlighted by women. He wasn’t a revolutionary feminist, however. Instead, the women are merely a way to highlight the absurdity of government, how they ‘argue solutions but never come to conclusion’.

Pictured: Hazel Eadie

If for a second you suspect this to have a hidden agenda, with a profound political message and commentary – then all the power to you. Women in Parliament, in keeping with its ancient counterpart, revels in the ludicrous nature of its construction. It isn’t pushing a ‘feminist’ agenda but instead firing pointed harpoons at the current states of government. No one is safe. Not Tory, nor Liberal, Nor defenceless Jeremy Corbyn.

While in the North, it seems fitting to amend the text with Scots dialect and reference. Outside of the Political, Wilson’s translation achieves some of its distinct humour through Aristophanes second favourite pastime after sex – defecating. Oh yes, scatological witticism is rife in the Streets of Athens this evening, so please watch your footing. For those unfamiliar, you will need a slight adjustment time to the toilet humour, but once consigning yourself to the loose bowels of Blepyrus (Mike Towers) you’ll be sure to snigger along.

He, along with Chris Allan, brings a sense of false patriarchal grandeur to the proceedings. Allan, in particular, holds the constant stage presence this evening. Standing against this – leading a procession of marching women determined to undermine the Men of government, who were clearly doing such an exceptional job, are Prazxagora (Angela Estrada) and her crew of disgruntled, beard-clad women.

Pictured: Angela Estrada

Estrada, arguably our lead turns a stellar performance with what is an undoubtedly complex script. While others may stumble and fade, she keeps her pacing and level of authority. She has a way with words which draws our ear immediately, illustrating parallels with other ‘silver-tongued’ world leaders.

Mainly on the fault of Aristophanes (easier to blame the centuries deceased) than Wilson, classical texts traditionally have an altogether different style of pacing. Any accustomed to the likes of Lysistrata will recognise the structure, short finale and bloated early scenes. Scott, along with the cast, seems to anticipate this – making jabs at the audiences snoozing’s and interacting to keep their attention.

Design in mind, Michael Scott’s thrust style staging places the action in the centre of Lauriston Hall. We’re effectively on the back benches observing the baboons dance before us. A backdrop, a tart’s boudoir pink splashed across some doors and windows make for comical entrances, exits and scene change signage. This, along with Gordon Hughes’ lighting design makes for an intense richness from this evening’s performance. Never has a brothel looked quite as sinisterly appealing, or so we are informed…Emily Nash and Gordon Horne doing their best to both entice and repulse us.

Pictured: Colin Povey and Charlie Munro

With such a large venue, quite often our eyes drift to something happening far across the stage. The inclusion of slaves David Cree, Robert Seaton and Alasdair Watson make for slapstick scene changes, but when their buffoon antics occur several feet from where our attention should be focusing, it’s quite distracting.

So, no need to take a visit to ancient Greece, we seem to be living it. Athens of the North’s presentation of Women in Parliament is a delightful homage to Aristophanes’ original, injecting its own Scottish heritage through rhyming verse. It has issues with pacing, a few wayward performances and complexity in a narrative which will be lost on many, but it’s an appealing text, rich in satire and playfulness. A production worthy of support, a delicate blend of classical literature and toilet jokes – what’s not to love?

Runs until June 28th, tickets available from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

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/