Sunday, 22 May 2011

Cleopatra

Cleopatra, Northern Ballet Theatre, Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 17th May

Based in Leeds, Northern Ballet is best-known for its creation of innovative story ballets which are toured around the UK. Its vision is highly commendable; producing a regular stream of new and colourful ballets from Wuthering Heights to Madame Butterfly and Hamlet and bringing them to mass audiences is no small accomplishment.
Martha Leebolt as Cleopatra
Photo: Bill Cooper

Their latest offering, the tale of Ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra, is flashy but enjoyable. The complicated story of love, sex and murder is told succinctly and effectively.  From Cleopatra’s marriage to her brother, through to her romances with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony, the unremitting and dramatic action flows smoothly. Martha Leebolt was passionate and emblematic as the lead. Fresh from her award for Outstanding Classical Female Performance, she danced radiantly and was enticing to watch. Kenneth Tindall as Wadjet, the serpent-like god of pharaohs who guides Cleopatra through her destiny, sinuously and captivatingly slithered about the stage. The rest of the company also performed well – the army men were particularly unified and striking.

Choreographer and company director David Nixon uses a multiplicity of dance techniques – classical ballet and contemporary dance merge seamlessly into more surprising musical theatre style. His vision for the ballet is artistic and well-executed. Cleopatra and Caesar roll erotically in a length of white fabric, which when bundled, becomes a baby. Every gesture is imbued with meaning and dancers repeatedly strike powerful symbolic poses. Focus is on hands and wrists, which constantly meander and twine to make beautiful patterns.

The brand new score by Claude-Michel Schönberg, composer of Les Misérables and Miss Saïgon, was a joy to listen to. Its grandeur and boldness contrasted with moments of quiet lyricism and perfectly suited the ballet’s dancing and story. Costumes by Christopher Giles were equally praiseworthy, evoking the Egyptian setting with glamour and style but still allowing dancers freedom of movement.

All in all, Cleopatra is a lovely ballet, suitable for both seasoned ballet-goers as well as newcomers. It’s not groundbreaking, but it is well-danced, uncomplicated and fun – and certainly worth a pleasant evening’s viewing.

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