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“The world’s most notorious lover had quite a number of ‘first dates.’Award-winning biographer and playwright Ian Kelly, currently engaged with Northern Ballet adapting his Casanova biography as a major new dance work, imagines a ‘first date’ with the original Latin lover.”
IK: So – this is weird. I’ve had quite a few awkward first dates, but never with a dead person – or someone I’ve written about.
GC: All dates are a sort of fiction surely? A dance around reality – a construct of hope and daring – expectations built up and met, or not met
IK: Well you would know. Here’s the thing; I have thought about you a great deal over many years of writing a book and now a ballet, imagined conversations, wanted to understand you better – that much is very ‘first date’ – but we need to get a few things out of the way first –
GC: Like about all my sexual partners you mean? Isn’t that a conversation for a later date? If at all?
IK: Well, I’ve had some dates that have started there – that didn’t end badly….this is why you are still famous –the sex – not that you had that many sexual partners, but of course you wrote about them.
GC: and I appreciate that sounds bad – the writing about them I mean – but in fairness I didn’t really intend all that to be published, nor are there all that many, nor are all of them ‘identifiable.’ I wrote memoirs because I was depressed. I wrote a lot of other things too, now mainly forgotten.
IK: I like the one about how you escaped from the Doge’s prison – that’s good – and of course you’re meant to have added a bit to Don Giovanni. I’m not so au fait with the stuff on cubic geometry or the Kaballah.
GC: No – well, there you have it: ‘struggling writer turns to sex for consolation’ –are you saying you can identify better with that?
IK: Ha! You once said the only prophylactic against melancholy was books and writing – do you still believe that?
GC: Well I definitely think the subject of prophylactics should be avoided on first dates, don’t you? I meant it metaphorically. Here in the Afterlife, melancholy seems such a waste of living – but yes, on the whole, my preferred self-medicating involved writing. People say I was a sensualist but it’s not quite true. I put all sorts of duties ahead of hedonism, but I do believe that true happiness is to be found in sensual pleasures, refining and relishing them – but ideally, also, writing about them. It is a pleasure revisited.
IK: Which is why you framed your life-writing in the world of the senses?
GC: Is there another way, really? Isn’t that all we really know. What I mean is, I understood my world through the senses, I made no apology for that: I wanted to understand happiness –food and sex for instances – and for that matter make people happy. It’s what I do. I don’t think that’s without worth. I am me, I am how I see myself, and I am as others see me. These three are rarely the same man. I think I was very modern in seeing that. Which is why, of course, I wrote about myself, and why people are still interested, I hope. Not the sex, or even in the food I wrote about, in the end, but the exploration of self. It’s why I use the term ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ to mean interchangeably my sexual impulse, my essential self, sometimes even my aroused self.
IK: I find people ask me what your ‘secret’ was – I know you say you weren’t that successful a lover, but even so – did you?
GC: Have a secret? There’s no recipe, no ‘rules’ – making a winning impression on a first date – it’s hokum, all that. I find people fascinating. I think I wrote I always wanted to find out what makes a person unhappy – man or woman – and try to solve it. But if I had anything other than the good fortune to travel a lot and stay in rude health, it was a talent for listening…and sometimes making people laugh
IK: And you danced well, I recall – so I am hoping you approve of the book – mine about you I mean – being turned into a ballet?
GC: I do…I think I had a talent for the immediate, and I was a child of the theatre of course. But that’s what my story shares with ballet, I think, and with first dates for that matter: there is magic in the moment that can never be repeated. The live arts have that – none more than dance – it’s some of what drove me to travel, and to experience the thrill of the new – new experiences, new bodies even – we all respond to that – it makes us feel more alive. And beautiful bodies, in space – what’s not to like about ballet? Very eighteenth century.
IK: So you’ll be there on the first night?
GC: In spirit – of course.
Ian Kelly is a biographer and playwright, author of last year’s West End comedy Mr Foote’s Other Leg and the Casanova biography adapted as Casanova the ballet, scenario by Ian Kelly and Kenny Tindall, with Northern Ballet. World Première, Leeds, 11 March 2017 followed by a full UK tour and into Sadlers Wells this Spring. For booking details and further information please visit northernballet.com/casanova
Casanova, Actor, Lover, Spy Priest, was named Sunday Times Biography of the Year when it was published in 2008 (Hodder & Stoughton)