As she returns to the title role she created for Northern Ballet’s production of Cleopatra which premiered in 2011 Martha Leebolt says it remains her favourite character to play.
“Playing such an iconic woman who was so vicious and willing to do anything to come to power was very daunting but sometimes it’s fun and interesting to portray someone so different from yourself,” says the Californian who has been with Northern Ballet since 2001.
“She’s such a powerful and strong woman, who wouldn’t want to play her?”
It is choreographed by Northern Ballet’s artistic director, David Nixon, who admits to having been fascinated by the story of Cleopatra for a long time. “I think it’s the name, it’s just so iconic,” he says. “It has echoed through the centuries, and it has echoed more and more; it doesn’t lose its resonance. Two-thousand years later she is as popular as she ever was, in fact more so. I think the legend and the mystery of the woman grows rather than lessens. There is little factual information about her yet she managed to hold in her grasp two of the most powerful men in history. She was in some ways beautiful and unbelievably sensual for the almost barbaric Romans but she was also a woman, mother and above all a queen.”
So how did Leebolt prepare to get inside her? “I read a lot of books, watched the Hollywood movie and saw all the TV series about her that I could find. I took in anything and everything because even the smallest detail strengthens a character and makes it more realistic,” she says.
“I want to portray her strength but there’s so much more to her character. She had a son and was also a lover and even though she was vicious and willing to do anything to come to power, she still had a heart and was a normal person wanting love and a happy life.”
It was her first experience of having a role created around her. “It is a dancer’s dream to be choreographed on so naturally I was very nervous but equally excited,” she relects.
“Building the character of Cleopatra was definitely a work in progress. To replicate someone of such strength must be portrayed naturally, not imitated. I had to let her take over in a way. Also the music by Claude-Michel Schönberg not only defines the story but also creates the atmosphere and evolves the character. The score is a joy to dance to.”
But, she points out: “It’s a long, physically demanding show and also emotionally it’s very draining, especially when she has to kill the love of her life at the end.
She has a routine of getting into character. “While I’m in my dressing room I tend to be quite quiet and concentrate on thinking about the show while the hair and make-up gets done,” she says.
Cleopatra is at the Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday.