Casanova in Place: The Ballet


No, I did not dance at the Casanova in Place Symposium. Nor did the others (though that might have been a fun activity!) Instead, on Sunday June 30th we viewed the Casanova Ballet produced by Northern Ballet and filmed by Digital Theatre. Digital Theatre and Sky Arts very graciously granted me the rights to show the film at the symposium, of course at the suggestion of Ian Kelly, who was instrumental in the ballet’s creation.

The Digital Theater website describes the ballet thus:

“In a claustrophobic Venice of lavish dress and gilded interiors, Casanova is preparing for a career in holy orders when an erotic encounter sets him on a different path. Sexual conquests and intellectual liberation define this whirlwind of scandal and excess. 

Northern Ballet’s atmospheric and seductive production, Kenneth Tindall’s first full-scale narrative ballet, was captured by Digital Theatre at Manchester’s Palace Theatre and stars Giuliano Contadini as the infamous Italian lover.” 

Ian Kelly and Kenneth Tindall wrote the scenario, based on the Sunday Times bestselling biography Casanova by Ian Kelly, and choreographed and directed by Kenneth Tindall. The ballet won numerous awards, including Best Classical Choreography at the 2017 National Dance Awards and Outstanding Achievement in Dance, 2017, in BroadwayWorld. It will be touring internationally in 2020. Ian recounted the tale of how he was approached by Kenneth Tindall, who had read the biography and wanted to put this story on the dance stage. They worked in Venice in order to be surrounded by Casanova’s streets, buildings, and history and were influenced by the sound of Venice’s bells and waves.

CIP Ian Kelly

Ian introduces the film

Before beginning the film screening, Ian introduced the ballet. When Kenneth Tindall had asked him would he write the ballet, Ian replied, “What does a writer do in a ballet?” Ian expressed his pride in the ballet but humbly expressed that most of his contribution was “backstage.”

Tindall wanted to create something that got to the essence of the Casanova, and Ian described their purpose in this way: “That just maybe somebody who knew Venice, a city dancing on the edge of water, a man struck with the duality of big ideas and the corporeal should have himself and his journey beautifully expressed through the world of classical dance which obsesses around the issues of the distance between people and the constant yearning to connect.” Though the ballet’s story “takes its license from time to time,” it’s “a story of a man trying to make sense of his world.”

Sated after our lunch and with glasses of prosecco in hand, we were sucked into the lush world of the ballet. We spent the next two hours engrossed in this gorgeous visual display, the eroticism, the varied relationships, the religious questioning, and C’s love of the written word, all expressed by movement and color and light and darkness.


Ian returned to take questions from the audience. The initial sentiment was expressed by Barbara Lynn-Davis who enjoyed the final scene showing “This moment when he was being saved by his memories.” Barbara also asked if there is historical accuracy to the idea that C and Senator Bragadin had a physical or sexual relationship. Ian replied, “It’s one of the possibilities” and that C’s sexuality may have been “catholic,” in the meaning of embracing a wide variety of things.

He went on to explain that in creating a ballet they had to use shortcuts to express essential emotions: “We have to make this [idea] clear, fast.” Sometimes a relationship expressed via movement or a brief look or touch is a sort of shortcut to achieve that, a “compression of the seven decades of [Casanova’s] life.”

Valerie Ceriano commented that C was depicted as a “far more tortured character and a far more somber character than I get from the memoirs.” Ian reminded us that the memoirs were written in the C’s later years and “that tension between the memory of happiness and the reality of sadness is some of the power of the work.” This element is also captured through the juxtaposition of light and dark to heighten or accelerate viewers’ understanding. “The drama of yearning in classical dance is terribly important and therefore it has to have also a darkness to it,” Ian reminded us.

While creating the ballet, Kenneth had Ian write dialogue for the scenes too, because the dancers were also actors “hungry” for characterization. Kenneth would actually dance out scenes as they wrote them. “Kenny and I were quite taken with the issue of masquerade,” Ian said, “but also by travesty and by dressing and forming and undressing and redressing–that is in the memoirs as well, and is a gift to … storytelling.” His dream is for the live ballet to be performed at the Fenice, for it to “come home to Venice.”


Our group at the end of the film discussion.

I wanted to publicly thank Digital Theatre for their generosity in showing the film exclusively at this symposium; it has only been screened once before, besides its television presentation. Ian continued by saying, “It adds a particular sort of magic for me as you can imagine, so thank you. Sorry, I’m a bit shaken emotionally about it because it’s been such a huge part of my life and to bring it back here where it was originally written is an astonishing honor, in particular to share it with people who share my passion for that man, that story.”


(Symposium photos by Valeriano Hernandez-Tavera Martin.)

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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