Friday, 28 March 2014

Northern Ballet's Cleopatra in Sheffield

There are some ballets that have to be seen more than once to be appreciated fully. David Nixon's Cleopatra is one of them. I saw it in The Grand in Leeds on 6 March 2014 and reviewed it in  "Cleopatra - Northern Ballet, The Grand, Leeds 6 March 2014" on the 7 March 2014. Although I was impressed I was not bowled over as I was by Cinderella on boxing day (see "Northern Ballet's Cinderella - a Triumph!" 27 Dec 2013) or by Birmingham Royal Ballet's Prince of the Pagodas earlier this year (see "Lear with a Happy Ending - Birmingham Royal Ballet's Prince of the Pagodas 30 Jan 2014" 31 Jan 2014). I wrote: "This is a ballet that has to be seen more than once and probably many times to be appreciated fully."

Well, yesterday I saw Cleopatra again and enjoyed it so much more. I don't know whether that was because I had seen the ballet quite recently and knew what to look for or whether it was because I was more comfortable in the Sheffield Lyceum than I had been in Leeds and could concentrate on the performance. 

The Lyceum is in my humble opinion the best large theatre in Yorkshire allowing plenty of leg room, a good view of the stage from just about every point in the auditorium, spacious bar areas, efficient and courteous staff, ample parking across the road and plenty of reasonably priced eateries within walking distance. So much better than The Grand in every way. Why Northern Ballet does not make more use of The Lyceum - indeed why it dies not appoint it as its flagship theatre - beats me. For much of the day I have been asking on twitter and BalletcoForum why there isn't more ballet in Sheffield (a city region of 1.9 million and within an hour's drive of several million more) and I have yet to receive a convincing answer. As a Mancunian exile living in "Summer Wine Country"  with no axe to grind in Yorkshire rivalries I'd say that as a city Sheffield knocks Leeds into a cocked hat; but as I sport the red rose in inter-Pennine rivalries what do I know.

Anyway returning to the show, it was interesting to compare last night's cast with those who appeared on the 6 March 2014. On that occasion I saw Martha Leebolt for whom the role of Cleopatra had been created. Last night it was Michela Paolacci who interpreted the role quite differently. Now Cleopatra is not a nice lady. She marries and then murders her brother in his bath and she despatches Mark Antony with a chilling sauté but, whereas Leebolt's Cleo was as hard as nails, I somehow warmed to Paolacci's. I could imagine her defence counsel's plea of mitigation - a single mum, coming from a dysfunctional home, a victim of circumstances - all that sort of thing. For me the highpoint of the ballet is the confrontation of the fair Octavia danced brilliantly by Pippa Moore with Cleopatra over Mark Antony (Ashley Dixon). Octavia represents everything Western and decent while Cleopatra is sultry, sexy and degenerate. Of the other roles, Jospeph Taylor (who has only been with the company for a couple of years) was a great Wadjet, Hironeo Takahashi a convincing Caesar and Matthew Topliss (another recent recruit) a suitably imperious Octavian.

The cast three weeks ago was the company's first team. Last night provided an opportunity for Northern Ballet's promising newcomers, but yesterday's show was not in any way second rate. All danced well and all deserve to be commended. Even though I now know the ballet quite well I should still like to see it again. Too bad it is not to be staged outside Yorkshire this year. I do hope the company revives it again soon.

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