'Cleopatra' with the Northern Ballet

Last week my friend asked me to see ‘Cleopatra’ with the Northern ballet at Leeds Grand theatre with her and a friend. The prospect seemed pretty daunting. My first thought was ‘the ballet?’ because considering what’s left of my student loan I was looking forward to more of an orange Wednesdays evening! However, after agreeing to go, I realized the only ballet I have ever been to see was ‘Swan Lake’ during a primary school trip far less exciting than the Legoland outings I was more accustomed to! The memory of almost falling asleep in that decade made me feel slightly uncultured at the thought of seeing a new performance as a university student, but I was pleasantly surprised!

The ballet, choreographed by David Nixon, debuted in 2011 but the fact it is still in production is a testament to its popularity. As someone who has had minimal experience of such shows it is clear to me now why it is so highly regarded, as the performance seems to appeal to everyone! The story circulates around the romantic entanglements of Cleopatra and perhaps it is this historical aspect which appeals to so many people, as well as the incredibly talented dancers. Admittedly, I knew about as much of the history of Cleopatra as I did of the ballet (I realize I’m not selling myself as the most intellectual individual here). As a result, much like I can imagine an opera experience would be, it took me a while to decipher the characters and plot but this was made so much easier with the stunning movement of the dancers…and the embarrassingly loud commentary of my friend beside me! I feel like I have long been under the impression that the experience of watching a ballet would be confusing with only the music and physical movements of the dancers to follow, but this was an opportunity to see what a powerful performance it can be.

During the interval my two friends and I immediately began trying to untangle each of the dancers roles and the intentions of the smallest aspects of the performance. Such as a scene in which Cleopatra lies in the center of the stage while the impression of blood running down the walls is conveyed using projected images. As an avid theatre goer, this part of the experience was particularly appealing, where the use of such a small image or the slightest movement of the dancers created a personal interpretation of the story. Similarly, being an English student it is often the words of the performers which seems to carry the mot significance for me, but this adaptation in the arrangement of a ballet reminded me of the power of performance in all its forms.

Despite the intense plot, ‘The Guardian’ review claimed the play remains successful with the use of a “minimalistic set with detail added by digital projection.” This was obvious when watching the performance in that the simple white backdrop made the movements, and therefore the intense precision and speed of the dancers, even more impressive. This was the most striking part of the show as it seems easy to forget how much skill is needed to achieve the quality and effect of the dancing so that the movements themselves tell a story. Perhaps this is the part I missed as a 10 year old but it is easy for me to see now how people can leave a show like this so inspired! Saying that, I don’t plan on beginning my dance career any time soon but I think I will be on the lookout for any performances being advertised in Leeds from now on!

The combination of such amazing dancing, a dramatic plot and the obvious eye candy in Cleopatra’s many suitors, I’m so glad I was able to see the show and would definitely recommend it to anyone thinking of seeing something different! For any ballet snobs out there (in the most complimentary way), I apologize if my interpretation may seem slightly simplistic but I think the fact it was such an enjoyable evening shows how the experience can appeal to so many people and hopefully won’t be the last performance I view! 

Image Sources:

1: http://first-night-records.co.uk/catalog/images/Cleopatra_Ballet_ENCORED14_RGB_400x400.jpg

2: http://balletnews.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Cleopatra03-3.jpg

3: http://www.hearingfund.org.uk/brewreG8/wp-content/themes/kingsize/images/upload/grand-theatre.jpg