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Cleopatra – New Theatre, Cardiff

Music: Claude-Michel Schönberg

Director: David Nixon

Reviewer: Jacqui Onions


I went to the Northern Ballet’s production of Cleopatra with a friend who had never experience ballet live. In her words she “lucked out” choosing Cleopatra as her first. The production has a run time of 2 hours 15 minutes and that flew by as this production is packed full of drama and passion. Striking a balance between traditional and contemporary ballet, it has something for every ballet lover and is also a perfect introduction for any adult new to the art form (maybe not children as it’s a little too sexual and has a suggested age of 12+). The story is easy to follow, not because it is at all simplistic, rather it is well conceived, well choreographed, well presented – exactly how ballet should be.

Forget the stereotypical men in tights. The male characters in this production are masculine, womanising, fighting men; but the show is predominantly about girl power. Men come in and out of her life, but Cleopatra is hardly off the stage and Julie Charlet makes this physically demanding rôle look effortless. She takes the audience through the many dramas of Cleopatra’s life; from her marriage to her brother, Ptolemy (danced by Benjamin Mitchell) and their struggle with each other for power resulting in is murder, to the arrival of the Roman’s in Egypt and her seduction of Julius Caesar (danced by Hironao Takahashi), the birth of their child and the politics that result in Caesar’s murder, and finally to the tangled web of her affair with Mark Antony (danced by Ashley Dixon) and ultimately to the deaths of both Antony and Cleopatra. The action throughout is observed by the ever watching, sinister presence of the Egyptian god Wadjet, who takes the form of a snake. Darren Goldsmith’s performance in this rôle is worthy of special mention as his slithering movements are hypnotising from the first moment just his arm appears on stage.

There are some wonderfully simplistic pieces of staging in this production. During Cleopatra’s summoning of Wadjet at the start of the piece, a rectangle of light shines onto the stage like the sun through a window. So cleverly choreographed is this dance that the shadows cast in the light by the dancers are almost as beautiful as the dancing itself. The imagery of the birth of Cleopatra’s son is also very cleverly depicted using just a length of cloth.

The costumes for the most part are stunning with wonderful use of colour to represent the Egyptians and Romans. However, the Roman army have muscle definition built into their outfits. On the red outfits this doesn’t look to bad but with Caesar dressed in white his looks like it has been drawn on with black marker pen, leaving him looking like He-Man without the fake tan.

There are a couple of other points that let down this otherwise brilliant production. There is a drape used in the opening scenes that at times blocks the action, something you don’t expect to be an issue in top price seats. Also it is rather distracting to have a supposedly dead Ptolemy in a bath on stage for quite a long time, obviously breathing very heavily. Since this follows a very physical dance depicting the struggle of power between him and Cleopatra it is hardly surprising and not a criticism of the dancer, but it would have been possible to cover him over so it was less obvious. That said this is a mesmerising performance that is well worth a visit.

Runs until Saturday 9th April 2011


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