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David Sonnenbluck’s “Casanova” is the artwork of the true successor of Béjart.


Sirp, Kristiina Garancis

“Casanova” at Theatre Vanemuine, director of choreography, stage and musical director David Sonnenbluck (Belgium), costume designer David Sonnenbluck and Mare Tommingas, light design Andres Sarv and Imbi Mälk. Dancers Colin Thomas Maggs, Anthony Maloney, Takuya Sumitomo, Ilja Mironov, Hayley Jean Blackburn, Nashua Mironova, Julia Litvinenko, Mai Kageyama, Maria Engel, Marta Marcelli and others. Premiered on March 12th at Vanemuine Small Building.

David Sonnenbluck’s choreography expressed by the body language of the Vanemuine Ballet Troup brought to day the phenomenon of Casanova, the marvel, that has inspired creators through centuries because it contains the main essence of the creators and also the working mechanism of the performance art as a whole. The wish to escape the grey everyday and get from the world behind the curtains to the footlights, to the adoring eyes of the audience, has the effect of adrenalin to the actor. The sufficient amount of complacence and narcissism activates the creative element. If we have enough narcissism and protective self-love, we are granted to progress in life regardless of setbacks and disappointments. But if there is too much of it, then we have Casanova. Casanovianism as a lifestyle is an ode to everything self-centered and enjoyable. The reason for existing is a hunt for the climaxes, the mind-thrilling and why not also the esthetically beautiful. It is an addictive game with relationships, people and sensuality, where there is no place for preconventional morality and the soul is ever searching for the next arousal, the next conquest. And the interest in it vanishes as soon as the new prey is caught. Thirst, hunger and passion are the only incentives for existence. A narcissist always needs someone or something else to make him happy. A brief sensation of being alive fights off the feeling of dissatisfaction and insufficiency, just for a moment.

Knowing the facts of the life of Casanova, who lived in the XVIII century, growing up without a mother and a father, with his grandmother, one could easily talk about narcissism in him, the element that pushed the man to conquer 122 women, stimulated by the yearning for attention to constantly rush into new adventures, cheat and lie, test the limits of himself and others and brutally take advantage of people around him. The status of a poet, musician and artist of life is all just a normal part of it.

The artistic director of Brussels Ballet David Sonnenbluck has infected the Vanemuine Ballet Troup with the Casanovian attitude. Knowing his background at the Maurice Béjart Mudra dance school and his experiences in the productions of the legendary chorographer, one could imagine his style, his approach where body is everything. The “apparatus” of flesh and bones that demands supreme physical concentration and acrobatically sophisticated performance is as valuable here as it once was for the real historical Casanova.

Corps de ballet acts as a perpetual motion machine, one big body using its trained hands and hips to draw pictures of Casanovian expressions. Life like a show: one glamorous picture of the mind followed by the next, one movement schema changed into another, while dynamics and pulse of the music whipping their heals. Faster, more colourful, more plentiful stage life with new delights every step of the way. Sonnenbluck’s dance form is ballet and show combined – fancifully reckless, but is caught in sharply traced mis-en-scenes like a kite caught in airflow. The bearing line, the visual red thread through the performance, is figuratively eloquent, esthetically beautiful and charged with huge energy. Sonnenbluck’s “Casanova” is the artwork of the true successor of Béjart.

The first scene is held together with nine pictures, the second scene with eleven. As parts of the show they are meaningful units with specified beginnings and endings. They are created honoring the form of a serial, it is good to know the previous episodes but even without seeing the previous ones one can understand the core of the story. Decorations offer a calm frame for the promenade of historic costumes and also support the colour and texture of the dancers clothes. The visual reference to the court of the era contains a fair amount of show, decorative quality. The center of the attention is fortunately still the body. The slightly autobiographic pictures of the XVIII century Venetian Casanova are shown to the audience via gallery of titles: “Baffo, my friend”, “Baffo and Madam Pompadour”, “Henriette”, “We Together”, “The Court”, “Seduction”, “One Experience”, “Courtesan”, “Evenings at Casanova’s” etc. Colin Thomas Maggs and Takuya Sumitomo form the activating force of the evening, respectively leading the way in the roles of Casanova and Baffo. On stage the masculine side of the body flows like a chain of continuous movement phrases in the shape of dancing muscles. Their duet doesn’t stop, doesn’t rest even for a moment. Maggs is eager and flammable like a little boy, reacting with every cell of his body, Sumitomo on the other hand sensitive and soft. Complementing and telling new stories other body-speakers join in – one of the most memorable is perhaps the unearthly Hayley Jean Blackburn as a chorus in the role of Henriette. The twists, entwinings, jumps, lifts that are catapulted from the dancers’ bodies are to be taken seriously. Energy and pure joy of movement set the right accents and give meaning to relationships. Two men in a relationship, four men in interaction, a man and a woman, men and rest of the company. Changes, swaps take place as in a dream that you can only watch and not stop. Speed and physical action absorb your attention.

Sensual duets-trios are enjoyable even if you don’t know the characters. Madame Pompadour or Manon are recognizable as characters and the unhappy love story with Henriette is graspable as a narrative but the show part of it dominates over all of this. It doesn’t matter if the body chemistry comes from the polarity of a man and a women or from the touch of two men. The basics of the story is sensuality, that serves the physical body. It all starts from the body and it all flows into movement. There is nothing else. Passion, joy, value is all in the body and the movement impulse starts from existing in the body and its biological instinctive pulsations. What makes us move is an invitation from another body or listening to your own body. Passion flows through one’s body when a new potential conquest is at sight, it is the body that tells you that you are still desirable, in the end body can free you from every tension. “Casanova” with its dance energy and stories told makes us think about this phenomenon and draw parallels with our time today. Of course, narcissist is often a very self-confident and verbally competent communicator, for whom performance has to be perfect. He needs riches and power to exceed everyone. A narcissist lives in constant flow of changes: his life lacks stability, he cannot stand routine. His inner void he fills with speed and unreasonable risk. He is fascinated with tension and vitality, he needs to test the limits and needs constant change to feel alive. His biggest fear is commitment. There are plenty of those among our acquaintances these days. But how can a Casanova get away with it all? No Casanova could be a heart breaker if there weren’t those who let him do what he does, who are willing to be victims. But how? A narcissist offers extraordinary moments to his victim making that victim feel like the most special person on the planet. It is these moments that gets the victim addicted. After all it is every woman’s desire to be in that energy of admiration, that a true Casanovian narcissist can offer – if a man needs her, she will feel like the most beautiful and loved person in the whole world. And who would say no to that? A narcissist distorts the victim’s reality and the latter will live in a fairy tale world of fun-house mirrors. The victim starts to feel bad, but doesn’t understand why and progressively tries to please the narcissist to only feel the highlights once again.

The story of “Casanova” contains without any hidden notes, quite publicly all that makes someone a Casanova. We can think of him as a film character from a literal era. We can discuss why also nowadays there are plenty of people who woo with their clever conversation but deter with their empty soles. It is scientifically stated that at the moment of falling in love the frontal lobe cortex starts to produce strong natural stimulants: dopamine and noradrenalin. When those hormones spread in the brain, it allows a person to concentrate his attention, it produces enormous energy, motivation for reward, happiness and even insanity. These can actually be identified as the feelings of love. And that’s what Casanova was after. Sensation and energy, that activate the hunt, are one hundred percent present in the Vanemuine ballet. Sonnenbluck’s troupe has nailed the core of the Casanovian and communicate it expressively and catchingly. On stage and at the theatre Casanovianism is attractive, exciting and very inspiring, in life on the other it is a different story.