Cleopatra, Grand Theatre, Leeds
Friday 04 March 2011
As her story was retold over the centuries, Cleopatra has gone from vampish to vulnerable, extravagant to canny. In Northern Ballet's new production, there are touches of pageantry, some strong performances and fluent designs, but the personal and political drives of its heroine rarely come into focus.
Choreographed by David Nixon, Northern Ballet's director, the ballet covers all of Cleopatra's adult life. The new score is by Claude-Michel Schönberg, composer of Les Misérables. Schönberg creates insistent tunes, but rarely develops them. The best music is Schönberg's sensuous theme for Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Elsewhere, he gives little momentum or characterisation.
Martha Leebolt's boldly danced Cleopatra is touched by destiny, represented by Kenneth Tindall's snake god. She takes up a wall-painting pose in profile, suggesting the transition from woman to Pharaoh. Christopher Giles's set is a bare temple, with wall carvings provided by Nina Dunn's projection design. The film sequences are spoiled by brighter lighting, but they can be effective.
Nixon rattles through Cleopatra's story, from teenage queen fighting her brother and co-ruler Ptolemy to her affairs with Caesar and Antony. There are some sharp touches. Ptolemy and Cleopatra lie solemnly enthroned, then sit up with a snap, consumed with sibling rivalry. But there's too much bland parading around, getting through the plot without making these characters distinctive.
Leebolt does respond to Tobias Batley's very charismatic Antony. Their affair is the best part of the ballet. Having seduced Antony herself, Cleopatra gives him more lovers to play with, while the Romans watch her orgy with disapproval. In that moment, Nixon's Cleopatra is calculating and strong. His ballet needs more of that character insight.
To 5 March (0844 848 2701); then touring (www.northernballet.com)
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