The Queen of the ballet – BALLET NEWS WORLD EXCLUSIVE

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Martha Leebolt as Cleopatra and Kenneth Tindall as God Wadjet Photography throughout : zxDaveM

Cleopatra.  Her very name has stirred within you a reaction, no ? 

Seductive, sensual Egypt mashed up against the male-dominated barbarism of ancient Rome.  The perfect incompatibility.

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Martha Leebolt as Cleopatra & Kenneth Tindall as God Wadjet

David Nixon’s compelling interpretation of Cleopatra’s story for Northern Ballet casts a spotlight on her pivotal liaisons with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, and on Monday night the ballet company previewed two pas de deux from the new ballet.

Not many facts survive about Cleopatra, born in late 69BC an ancient Greek, a queen and the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.  She allegedly committed suicide in 30BC, according to tradition with the bite of an asp. She was arguably the most powerful woman in the world of her time; as pharaoh she became Julius Caesar’s mistress and bore him a son, as per Egyptian custom she also married her two brothers and ruled with them (later on her own), and she bore twins to Marc Antony after Caesar’s assassination as well as a second son. 

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Martha & Kenneth

Cleopatra was regarded as a great beauty by many, including the Greek historian Plutarch, who said that “she was going to visit Antony at the very time when women have the most brilliant beauty.” When she met Caesar she was inexperienced; by the time she seduced Marc Antony they were both experienced. You can imagine.

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Martha & Kenneth

She was clever, though, and her wit and charm were said to have been noticed as much if not more than her beauty.

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Martha & Kenneth

Premier Dancer Martha Leebolt, who has been nominated for a National Dance Award in the ‘outstanding performance (classical)’ category, First Soloist Tobias Batley and Premier Dancer Kenneth Tindall travelled from Leeds to perform these two excerpts at Sadlers Wells. 

The role of Cleopatra has been created on Leebolt, Marc Antony on Batley, with the role of the God Wadjet (the snake-man) created on Tindall.

The first pas de deux, based on Cleopatra’s meeting with God Wadjet showed strong interpretations of a snakes head – though of course we did not see the conclusion !  Now I was no more than a sneeze away from Leebolt and Tindall but even so, the rich, intense drama was utterly absorbing.  Leebolt is so strong and secure, and the clichés that you might expect to see in relation to Egypt are simply not there.  The ballet sits somewhere between classical and contemporary – the choreography is classical but the sets, with video projection, are entirely modern.  Put away any pre-conceived ideas of a stage packed with artifacts from Ancient Egypt; Nixon has created an Egyptian feel with movement based on his own ideas; something you won’t have seen before.

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Tobias Batley as Marc Antony

In fact, Nixon has brought together a stellar artistic team to help him realize his particular vision, which has been some years in the making.  Composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, responsible for the music of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, says that it took him five years before he could find inspiration for the score of Cleopatra, which reflects “the chaos of being in love with such a woman as Cleopatra.”  It’s beautiful music, even in recorded version without orchestration.  Schönberg’s first ballet score, Wuthering Heights, again, for Northern Ballet, premiered in 2002. Patricia Doyle is co-director, Christopher Giles is co-designer and Tim Mitchell is lighting designer.

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Martha Leebolt & Tobias Batley

I’m thrilled to bring you a Ballet NEWS WORLD EXCLUSIVE – your first glimpse of the costumes.  Nixon & Giles very kindly agreed to these photographs being taken, but I must emphasize that these are very early drafts and are not necessarily the finished article.

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Martha & Tobias

Giles is a former dancer, and so is designing with fabrics that will move with the dancers, so that the battle dress is made from Lycra.  I asked Giles about the ‘tattoo’ theme that I saw running through the costumes and he agreed – it is deliberate.

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Martha & Tobias

One of the things that Nixon is very keen to avoid is any suggestion that the ballet is overly dominated by men.  Of course, in Cleopatra there are more male leads and that will be reflected, but in choreographing the ballet he has enlisted the experience of Doyle, who will ensure that the females have defined roles beyond that of Cleopatra, and that their voices are not drowned out.

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Martha & Tobias

The second pas de deux, between quixotic Cleopatra and Marc Antony is, well, sex.  A charged atmosphere from the start, and even in the confined space (much smaller than a conventional studio) the dynamic lifts and twisting patterns evoke such an intensity that you literally forget to breathe.  There is something quite lawless about Leebolt, and she is easily matched by Batley. 

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Martha & Tobias

This pas de deux is based on an unverifiable story about Cleopatra, and one of the best known.  Legend has it that she bet Marc Antony that she could spend ten million sesterces (an ancient Roman coin, usually small and silver) on a dinner.  He laughed but accepted the bet.  Foolish ?  You bet it was.  The following evening she has a very average meal served, which Marc Antony laughed at.  Mistake number two.  The second course arrived, consisting only of a cup of strong vinegar.  Removing one of her priceless pearl earrings and dropping it into the cup, she drank it.

Leebolt moves towards Batley with turned out feet, one thigh in front of the other, arms outstretched with the golden goblet between her hands, until she reaches him and drinks from the cup. There follows a tumultuous, frenzied ‘interlude’ until the couple collapse (she on top of him) on the floor and remain still, arms outstretched.  Hands slowly entwine and they begin a series of lifts and you, the audience, are left to decide whether or not Cleopatra is in love with him.

 One word :  Go.

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Cleopatra - costume designs throughout by Christopher Giles

Production credits :

  • Music Claude-Michel Schönberg
  • Choreography David Nixon OBE
  • Scenario Claude-Michel Schönberg, David Nixon & Patricia Doyle
  • Orchestrations John Longstaff and Claude-Michel Schönberg
  • Co-directed by David Nixon & Patricia Doyle
  • Design David Nixon & Christopher Giles
  • Lighting Tim Mitchell
  • Projections Nina Dunn
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The God Wadjet (the snake-man) Costume sketch by Christopher Giles

Tour details :

World Premiere – Leeds grand Theatre

Sat 26 February – Sat 5th March 2011

Box office  : 0844 848 2701

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Costume sketch by Christopher Giles

Edinburgh – Festival Theatre

Thurs 10 – Sat 12 March 2011

Box office : 0131 529 6000 

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Costume sketch by Christopher Giles

Hull – New Theatre

Wed 16 – Sat 19 March 2011

Box office :  01482 226655 

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(this costume fabric is Lycra) Costume sketch by Christopher Giles

Sheffield – Lyceum Theatre

Tues 5 – Sat 9 April 2011

Box office :  0114 249 6000 

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Marc Antony Costume sketch by Christopher Giles

Cardiff – new Theatre

Tues 5 – Sat 9 April 2011

Box office :  029 2087 8889 

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Costume sketch by Christopher Giles

Milton Keynes theatre

Tues 5 – Sat 7 May 2011

Box office :  0844 871 7652 

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Costume sketch by Christopher Giles

Belfast – Grand Opera House

Tues 10 – Sat 14 May 2011

Box office :  028 9024 1919 

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L-R Tobias Batley, Martha Leebolt & Kenneth Tindall after the event

London – Sadlers Wells

Tues 17 – Sat 12 May 2011

Box office :  0844 412 4300

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15 Responses to The Queen of the ballet – BALLET NEWS WORLD EXCLUSIVE

  1. DaveM November 17, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    cool write-up! Looks like a winner for Northern Ballet, I’ll look forward to seeing it for real next year

  2. May November 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    What an original idea and some interesting concepts. It was a brilliant idea for them to show some of the work at Sadlers Wells. This is what we need for ballet – some flexibility, thinking outside the box. Hope there will be more of this to come. Looking forward to the actual ballet’s premiere! Hope they will bring it around the country, including London and some smaller theatres.

  3. MKR November 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    This looks like it will be awesome. Also, Cleopatra’s costume will be fabulous.

  4. Cafe Fashionista November 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    Ooh, I LOVE the story of Cleopatra! What a phenomenal production!! 🙂

  5. May November 17, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    Oh, just got a mailing from Sadler’s Wells! Yes, Northern Ballet are scheduled to bring the full ballet Cleopatra round to Sadlers Wells, London, in May next year. Actually, the dancers look so sleek and athletic in practice clothes that one hopes the costumes wouldn’t obscure them too much. So many times you see dancers looking impressive when they rehearse in practice clothes and then on the day of the performances the costumes are so complicated that it’s a bit of a let down.

  6. Ballet News November 17, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    Just to quickly answer May – yes, much flesh is promised. Since the designer is a former dancer we are assured of costumes that the dancers don’t feel overwhelmed in. So important because I tell you, those pdd’s were ON FIRE.

  7. Ballet News November 17, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    Dave – the question is, Leeds or London ? Who can wait !!

    MKR – it is fabulous. Such a creative team and the time is just right for this. I hope you have snapped up tickets because I’m certain it will be a sell out.

    Cafe Fashionista – it’s true. And the production will not follow the route of the previous films, or anything else. Truly unique and unmissable !

  8. Couture Carrie November 17, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    Would love to attend this one!


  9. Diana Mieczan November 17, 2010 at 10:13 pm #

    That is truly amazing…Love the post and all the photos:)
    Kisses my dear

  10. Ballet News November 18, 2010 at 9:07 am #

    Couture Carrie – I hope you can, somehow !

    Diana – thank you.

  11. Rachel @ Inspiration in Italy November 18, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

    I will never cease to be in awe! What an incredible concept & I can’t even imagine how incredible the show will be. By the way, absolutely love the photo at the top of the blog.


  12. Audrey Allure November 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    Such beautiful photos!

  13. Casey V December 8, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    I think it will be a beautiful performance. Cleopatra is a very strong character, and I believe Martha has everything to express it. I agree costumes look stunning.