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Northern Ballet: Cleopatra – Milton Keynes Theatre

Composer:Claude-Michel Schonberg

Director David Nixon

Reviewer:Maggie Constable

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★☆

Most people will know of Shakespeare’s Cleopatra but here is a very different one! This story tells us of the young Cleopatra, who weds her brother Ptolemy to get to the throne of Egypt, who commits murder and who later is the seductress of both Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. In this version we also meet Wadjet, Cleopatra’s snake-god companion, God of the Pharaohs, controller of her fate.

The greatest of Northern Ballet’s Cleopatra’s many assets is its lead dancer, Martha Leebolt, who won a National Dance Award in 2010. She is a superbly expressive, intelligent performer, who tackles her role assuredly. Her lines and shapes are sharp and exquisite. She is the powerful yet sultry Queen of Egypt, just as we might imagine her. Cleopatra’s great love, the famed Mark Antony, does not appear until late on in the piece, when the two collide in a highly gymnastic and energetic sex scene which then turns into a slow, poignant moment of genuine intimacy, beautifully performed. This is the most erotic of the three pas de deux Cleopatra performs with her lovers.

In between these pas de deux, which have moments of true choreographic genius, we have the recurring figure of Wadjet, whose hand, curved into the shape of a snake head, plunges into Cleopatra’s bosom and ends her life. This is a wonderful image, as is the final one of Cleopatra taking on the form of an Egyptian deity as she climbs to join the other gods on high All this takes the ballet away from memories of Shakespeare’s play, besides which any representation of Cleopatra could seem a tad pale. However, this story is woven so simply and evocatively with the contrast of the highs and lows in the music and the choreography that you are drawn almost magically into it. The effectiveness of the narration is assisted by the use of light and dark and particularly the effect of shadows.(lighting by Tim Mitchell) The stage design is fairly minimalist, although powerful columns suggest the Egyptian and Roman Empires. The projection(Nina Dunn) of icons, hieroglyphics and other pertinent images onto the backdrop really sets the scene for us.

As Wadjet (Kenneth Tindall, in a body-skin of greeny-blue and gold) coils around Cleopatra you can almost feel his scales! He has an aura and presence in his movements which are truly affecting .In contrast we have the worldy Caesar (Javier Torres), who exudes masculinity and power whilst showing some more tender aspects of his character ‘en famille’. The role is perfectly performed. Mark Antony (an extremely athletic Tobias Batley who dances the part with sensitivity and charm) is totally believable as he whose sexual desires and all-consuming love/lust for Cleopatra lead inevitably to his moving downfall at the hands of Octavian.

Claude-Michel Schonberg’s score is at its most effective in Egypt, the flutings, the rattle effects and the plaintive violins. The music tells the story as well as does the dance and is excellently played by the live Northern ballet Sinfonia.

David Nixon(Director)’s new Cleopatra, for Northern Ballet, is totally fresh. Not just in terms of its look, though the costume designs –gorgeous, floaty voiles of blue and orange for Egypt, army reds and the trappings of armour for Rome – are wonderful, but also in the choreography, in the sinuous and sensual movements, the mix of classic and contemporary, and the touches of quirky inventiveness in some of the corps de ballet pieces.

You will be as mesmerised as Julius Caesar, as beguiled as Mark Anthony by this production!

Runs until Sat 7 May 2011

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