5 Questions to Kenneth Tindall about his new Casanova for Northern Ballet
Casanova, a full evening work, is to be premiered at the Leeds Grand Theatre on 11th March 2017.
Congratulations on the commission and what an interesting subject! Where did the idea spring from and will you be telling the whole story of Casanova’s life or focusing on certain aspects?
Northern Ballet sits in a very unique position in the cultural fabric of the U.K dance scene; that, coupled with the financial climate, has meant that it has become increasingly dependent on box-office sales. This means that as an organisation they have to be astute about what titles they commission. Northern Ballet has a wonderful and loyal fan base that need to be taken into consideration, as well as making sure the title serves the company and the artists within it. However my voice and vision as a choreographer are the reasons I have been commissioned so it was finding a title that could serve multiple purposes while, hopefully for me, appealing to a new audience and remaining an exciting and challenging project. That being said, I think most choreographers have a back catalogue of ideas and titles they want to explore and once I came back across Casanova and suggested it to David Nixon (Artistic Director) and Mark Skipper (Chief Executive) it was immediately clear that this was a title we were all excited about. I certainly won’t be telling Casanova’s story from A-Z as it is just too vast; his life and adventures lend themselves to the stage so well and, in my opinion, especially ballet. He lived a life of excess and theatrical flare!
How have you found working with a dramaturge (Ian Kelly) for the first time?
Easy answer, great! Ian (www.iankelly.net) is so multi-talented. As a playwright he completely understands how to structure a great story, as a biographical historian there isn’t a thing he doesn’t know about Casanova and because of his vast knowledge and experience as an actor this means that not only does he know both sides of the creative process, he will be able to guide, encourage and challenge the dancers as well as myself. How could I not work with him?!!
We are still tinkering with a few details of the scenario but it is mostly all in place. Our working relationship feels very simpatico; we come from very different worlds and work environments on paper but in reality we have found many similarities and we have triggered each other’s imaginations on many different levels, so far its been brilliant.
You are using a custom score from Kerry Muzzey and designs from Christopher Oram, both much experienced but fresh faces to working in ballet. How did you choose them and what should we expect – cutting edge modern or 19th century tradition?
I really wanted to bring a completely new and fresh team to this ballet and for all the different departments and creatives at Northern Ballet to have the opportunity to work with new people from the arts industry. With Ian, Chris and Kerry it feels like I am bringing a variety of seriously experienced artists from different creative backgrounds to work on a project that is a first for us all; hopefully this will give fresh perspective and add to the richness.
I came across Kerry (kerrymuzzey.com) when I was creating The Architect; I used his piece ‘Architect for the Mind’ as the final music for the work and the dancers and audience really connected with it. He actually came to a show at the Opera House all the way from Santa Barbara. He adores dance and his work has been used before for dance companies in the States. He writes wonderful, theatrical music that engage the imagination.
I have long admired Chris’s (christopheroramdesign.com) designs and I love the way he creates absorbing, totally believable environments full of texture and physicality. He is something of a specialist in period costumes himself and that is great starting point for me to then ask him to start deconstructing the style so that the audience can see a stripped back, cool look that shows the dancers’ line. I suppose you would call the design Casanova Couture!
I really didn’t want to do a chamber version with period costumes and music; the period of Casanova will inform and inspire us but not define the project. I am learning a lot from these creatives and I realise that a commissioned, custom score and a Tony Award winning designer are very special cards to play.
How will you be making Casanova – there is a lot of talk now about improving the creative process and using internal reviews and various previews to hone work.
Firstly I agree with reviewing the work internally and also with the idea of previews but the fact of the matter is we are all limited by the financial cost of such things. I like to have an open studio and welcome feedback and constructive criticism. This is where I will use Ian and also David Nixon’s experience to aid and guide me at various points along the creative process and I am lucky that I can call and will call upon key personal from theatre and dance backgrounds throughout the making time just to get their options and first impressions. I am sure that most choreographers would love a preview period like in the West End but we just don’t have a history of that in the ballet world and to be honest I doubt if the funding would ever allow it. I was quite taken by a recent interview with Crystal Pite, by Judith Mackrell, where it said ‘When Pite creates work for a large ballet company like the Royal, it frustrates her that there’s never enough time to establish an intimate creative relationship with her cast. Because she can’t create the kind of complexity she wants on individual dancers she compensates by choreographing with large numbers, so that the complexity is created out of the structure, the pattern and the flow’.
I suppose it all comes down to the amount of creation time a project is given and if that creation sits against revivals or other creations for the up coming seasons. In an ideal world you would create, rehearse, re-create and edit and then preview long before opening but I don’t know if that will ever be a reality in a ballet company.
Casanova is a huge project, but choreographers are always looking in several directions at once – what other balls are you juggling at the moment?
Casanova is a huge project and it takes a lot of emotion, time and energy, so I have tried to pace myself in the build-up to the start and not let it get too hectic and overwhelming. I am testing the boundaries and limitations of Casanova as a work, much like an artist would create multiple pieces based on one subject. I am continuing my research and collating images; I have started work in the studio and created short film pieces and also worked with the fantastic Olivia Pomp and Rick Guest using Casanova as our theme. I want to expose myself to as many creatives and mediums as possible to test the water and discover all I can to finally inform the ballet and fully prepare for the creation and rehearsal period. However the nature of freelance life and that old saying about waiting for a bus, it all seems to come at once (I am grateful!) I will be choreographing two triple bill pieces in Spain and then Germany either side of the Casanova project. My work with the artist Linder, ‘Children of the Mantic Stain’ will continue to tour for BAS 8 and is now part of the Southbank Summer of Love Festival in London and The Architect continues its life in film form as it will be screened at the FRAME London Dance Film Festival. I also have my role as part of the Steering group and the artistic advisory group for the 2023 bid for Leeds as European Capital of Culture which is just incredible and a real learning curve and I am actually in talks right now about a potential musical, so it’s all go!