Interview: Giuliano Contadini – Northern Ballet’s Casanova
As one of Northern Ballet’s most prominent leading soloists, Giuliano Contadini has been a powerhouse performer for the company for the last ten years. Dancing multiple roles in multiple ballets, his passion for dance has been taken to new heights in his portrayal of one of history’s most passionate men, Casanova. But taking on the iconic lead role of Northern Ballet’s brand new full length ballet has taken Giuliano on an incredible journey and led to the discovery of a few surprising facts about one of the most misconstrued and misunderstood historical figures, whose reputation is unfairly focused on his romantic reputation.
As Casanova prepared to cast his spell over audiences at Sheffield Theatres, Exposed caught up with Giuliano to discuss the process behind the creation of this lavish and sumptuous production.
Now that the first week of the production is over, what has been the reaction to the show so far?
It has gone down amazingly well. I have been with Northern Ballet for ten years, and we have always had a great reaction from our brilliant audiences, but for me, the premiere on Saturday (11th March 2017) was incredible. The audience were clapping and cheering as the curtain fell at the end of act one; something that I have never experienced. I was literally on cloud nine. And for every show since, people have loved it and said how much they have enjoyed it. I am on Instagram and Facebook, and the reaction on social media has been amazing. The reviews have been really great too. People seem to have taken the show to their hearts. The pressure has lifted slightly now that the show has been born, and I just can’t wait to get the production out there on tour so that we can share it with a wider audience.
What can people expect from the show?
I would say that piece has all the aspects that most people would expect from a ballet called Casanova; sex, passion, tension… although not in a trashy, vulgar way; but they can also expect a lot of things that people would not necessarily know about Casanova. There is a lot of historical information about him for example, he spoke six languages, he played the violin, he was a spy, an author, a mathematician, a lover of food; and he was a lot more intelligent than people think. We try, with this ballet, to go on the journey with him – he starts off in a place where he is a less confident man who is training to be a priest and develop with him throughout his life. We try to get across all of the different unknown aspects of Casanova, whilst equally trying to give them what they expect about him and about his reputation.
What is the most challenging aspect of the production for you?
There were a number of challenges for this production. One of them for me is getting the acting right – trying to create the right tone for the character and trying to find the right balance of all the aspects of Casanova into one composite role. Acting is difficult when dancing. There were also some days when we were trying to create and my body would be fairly sore given the repeated lifts and movements, as this is such a richly choreographed role, it was physically demanding. Given the complexity of the piece, we created a lot of scenes at the outset and one of the other challenges was to try to retain all of the work that we had done whilst devising new scenes, which could be confusing.
The ballet is choreographed by former the Northern Ballet dancer, Kenneth Tindall, who you danced with for many years, how was it working with him again?
It was a pleasure. Kenny was adamant that if we could not tell the story of Casanova clearly and if we couldn’t get the narrative right, then the ballet simply wouldn’t work. It’s very difficult and taxing creating a character and creating a ballet, but Kenny was focused, clear, enthusiastic and organised. It was difficult as he wanted to include so many aspects of his life into small scenes that the character initially felt very hectic – as if it is someone who was rushing between partners and aspects of his life; but as the ballet became clearer in his head, and the character became clearer in my head, it started to take shape. I have danced with Kenny in various roles for many years, and before I couldn’t imagine him at the front of the room, taking class and choreographing, but now I can’t see him dancing. He is so natural in terms of his choreography and even though this is his first full length ballet, it was like he had always been in the choreographer role.
Were the dynamics different whist working with him on this production?
Absolutely – Kenny is not just a choreographer, but he is a friend. I know him well and I knew where he was coming from and was able to speak honestly with him. It is a different connection when you have worked together – we could speak flat out straight to each other, and that openness allowed us to create the role together and allowed us to be more productive and to function well together. I have worked with many choreographers over the years, and there are people that you simply make a connection with on a human level. There have been some sticky moments during the creation of the ballet, and there has been tension, but as a company, we have all worked well and supported each other.
Did you or the company contribute the creative process?
It was a collaborative effort – we talked about it for a long time; then, pre-production, I did my own research and read books, watched films and documentaries in a search to find the right image for this role and to do justice to the life that Casanova had. Most of the sources I went to would always focus on the sexual aspect of his reputation, which is not what we were wanting to do or trying to do. Kenny, Ian Kelly (the writer of the ballet) and I literally tried every scene. It was an interesting process, as we all had different opinions and we simply kept trying different things until we felt that something clicked and fell into place. It was interesting working with people all of whom came at a scene from a different perspective – a choreographer looks at something differently to a writer who looks at something differently to a dancer. But there were moments when we were doing a scene and we would all look at each other and, without saying anything, we instantly knew that all the elements had come together perfectly.
Do you have an interest in choreography in the longer term?
I have never actually given much thought to choreography because, although I have created pieces during my training, I much prefer to dance. If, like with this piece, I am able to contribute to the creative process, then I am more than happy. I like being a conduit; I like being someone’s body and instrument for them to create.
You have danced many roles for Northern Ballet, but which would you say you enjoy performing most?
It is not just about the dance or the steps; it is about feeling the journey that the character goes on. Casanova is very special to me, as it is a role I have really developed. But I also love the character of Nick in The Great Gatsby. Nick was one of my first big creations, which was quite difficult at the time, but I loved that role and know it, and Nick, so well.
How do you keep track of so many different roles and ballets in your head?
It gets better and easier with time. It is all down to the individual strengths of the dancer. Some dancers have amazing photographic memories and it is easy for them to remember steps, but others write down the steps in a book. Where it becomes interesting is that you may rehearse two or more roles for the same production, so you may have to know both parts in a pas de deux (a duet); sometimes the steps are mirrored which makes it easier, but sometimes it is entirely different and that is where it becomes a little trickier.
Northern Ballet have three new full length ballets this year – Casanova, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas and The Little Mermaid – that’s a lot of work.
It’s an unprecedented feat. I have never done this many new productions in a year, so it is going to be an interesting and varied year. At the moment, we are rehearsing The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, but because of the time I have had to dedicate to Casanova, I have had not been as actively involved with that production as I have with others, but I will soon start to get more involved once Casanova has ended its run. It is a very heart-breaking story and a very delicate subject to tell, which some people have said is not suitable for a ballet, that somehow ballet cheapens the meaning behind it. But, especially in the current political climate, keeping a story alive like this is more important than ever. This is a story about such an important and significant historical moment and a ballet may resonate with someone more than a book does, or a film does, or a documentary does. Ballet has a way of being able to tell any story with the right music, movement and intentions and provided any story like this is told respectfully and sensitively, then there is no right or wrong medium to keep the story alive. We then have The Little Mermaid which will premiere toward Christmas, which is incredibly exciting and is going to be very different to the other new productions this year.
As you have a night off tonight, how are you going to spend your evening?
I’m planning to go to the gym, head to the cinema and enjoy some food with friends. I enjoy the occasional shopping trip, but it’s always great to sit at home on the sofa and watch TV. When you put your body through so much physically on a daily basis, it is great to just relax and put no demands on the body.
Northern Ballet’s Casanova comes to the Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from the 28th March 2017 to the 1st April 2017; and The Little Mermaid swims into Sheffield Theatres from the 28th November 2017 to the 2nd December 2017. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has its world premiere at Doncaster CAST Theatre playing from the 25th May 2017 to the 27th May 2017. Visit www.northernballet.com, www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk and www.castindoncaster.com for full details.
Read our review of Northern Ballet’s Casanova at Leeds Grand Theatre here.