Cleopatra – Review – Leeds Grand
Cleopatra – Review
Leeds Grand Theatre, March 2014
by Sandra Callard
Northern Ballet returns to Leeds Grand with the spectacular modern ballet Cleopatra. With music by Claud-Michel Schonberg, composer of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, and choreography by Northern Ballet’s artistic director, David Nixon, the ballet’s pedigree is certainly first class.
The towering story is known from Shakespeare and films, but it’s good to see that this production relies on neither. Here, Cleopatra’s powerful, tragic life is shown through the three men who influence her. Her brother Ptolomy, who she marries and subsequently kills. Julius Caesar, who she seduces and to whom she bears a son. And Mark Antony, her greatest and final love.
Cleopatra is brought vividly to life by Martha Leebolt. She is the premier dancer of Northern Ballet and winner of the ‘Outstanding Female Performance Award’ in 2010. This comes as no surprise. She is a beautifully eloquent dancer. She vividly depicts the many aspects of Cleopatra’s complex personality. Her sinuous beauty and movements illustrate so well the painted figures we are familiar with in Egyptian hieroglyphics. In fact, the whole company could transfer to the walls of an Egyptian tomb as they walk, dance and move with the profile sideways gait and bent elbows and wrists of 2,000 BC Egyptian art.
Leebolt’s pas de deux with Mark Antony (Tobias Batley), is spectacularly athletic and sexual. It also contain moving moments of love and intimacy. For me, though, her pas de deux with Julius Caesar, not usually known as her great love, and magnificently danced by Javier Torres, is the most moving and beautifully crafted. The scene where they make love in white sheets, which are subsequently gathered and rolled up into the shape of a baby, is both choreographically innovative and visually stunning.
For those who have to first read the story in the programme to make sense of a ballet, fear not. The dancing and the acting are so finely portrayed that there is no difficulty in following the plot. Even the odd character of the Egyptian god Wadjet, whom Cleopatra calls upon to help in her struggle for power, becomes more real as he too falls under her spell. He even bestows deity upon her at her death.
“Adventurous and extravagant”
The sets by Christopher Giles are surprising in their white bleakness. They take on the life of the story as light projections throw holograms onto the stark rectangular white boxes. They turn the scenes into Roman villas or streets, Egyptian palaces or bedrooms, with startling effectiveness. Schoenberg’s music is, as ever, wonderful and atmospheric. It conjures up the noise, brutality and power of Rome with strident trumpets and drums. It resurrects the culture and exquisite beauty of Egypt with haunting themes of delicate timpani and horns.
Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, is powerful and godlike in her lifetime. She is a woman who kills herself rather than submit to Rome. This production goes a long way in showing us why she is still an iconic personality 4,000 years later. Northern Ballet’s reputation has increased steadily over recent years. This adventurous and extravagant production adds another star to their impressive portfolio.
Photos by Bill Cooper