Review: Cleopatra at Leeds Grand Theatre ***

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AS the first new show to come from Northern Ballet in over two years this has all the feel of a comeback. And it’s an impressive return, albeit one that stops frustratingly short of being triumphant.

Cleopatra is a valiant attempt to tackle a monumental story with an equally monumental staging. It succeeds in some ways – namely Claude-Michel Schonberg’s thundering scoring – but falls short in others.

The set is an obvious example of where artistic director David Nixon has produced mixed results. They’ve used a very simplistic backdrop onto which is projected various settings, whether it’s the banks of the Nile or the temples of Rome.

Sometimes it works well, instantly switching between scenes in a way which is inventive and slick, negating the need to continually shift clunking stage furniture.

At other times it seems half-baked and a missed opportunity to create a truly lavish setting. These projections have enormous potential but, strangely, they don’t seem fully realised in Cleopatra.

The costumes are also a little hit and miss, a crying shame given the scope to consistently reproduce some of the grandeur of Egyptian and Roman garb. In one spectacular moment the stage is filled with around 20 dancers cloaked in sweeping hooded gowns of red, but in others the imperial soldiers, for example, wear body armour which is almost cartoon-esque.

The choreography itself is more consistent. Martha Leebolt in the lead role is breathtaking, delivering an unsurpassable performance of grace and eye-watering dexterity. She is paired well with Tobias Batley, who is perfect in the part of Marc Antony, and also Javier Torres as Caesar. Both male dancers are worthy love interests and deliver an impressive pas de deux.

There are one or two other moments of brilliance, such as the power struggle between Antony and Octavian, played by Hironao Takahashi. Yes, there are a few filler scenes, but they are rare.

The disappointment is that the moments of brilliance appear too brief and undeveloped. The character of Cleopatra also seemed subservient to Antony and Caesar. Somehow the dance didn’t convey the fact that she was the one in charge.

And that goes to the heart of what is simultaneously good and bad about this production – Northern Ballet’s new show is filled with great concepts which aren’t executed as well as they ought to be. Cleopatra is still outstanding, but that’s tempered by the knowledge that it could have been majestic.

l Until Sat, Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds, 7.30pm, Thu and Sat mat 2.30pm, £8.50 to £27. Tel: 0844 8482705.

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