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Cleopatra, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

TUTUS and tiaras – it’s still what many people expect when they see the word “ballet”.

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David Nixon’s new Cleopatra, for Northern Ballet (formerly Northern Ballet Theatre), is a bold and beguiling move in a totally fresh direction.

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Not just in terms of appearance, though the costume designs --gorgeous, gauzy wisps of light colours for Egypt, martial red and the trappings of armour for Rome -- are, like the set with its washes of projected ornamentation, a superbly-crafted amalgum of modern materials and period details. The most compelling shift here is in the choreography and in the sinuous, sensual movements that characterise Egypt and most especially Cleopatra and her Snake God companion, Wadjet.

As Wadjet (Kenneth Tindall, in a body-skin of greeny-blue and hold) coils around Cleopatra -- his snaking hand will eventually deliver her death -- you can almost feel the heat of the desert in every curving limb. And Martha Leebolt’s Cleopatra not only matches this sultry quality, she carries it forward in the re-telling of her life -- making it mysterious and seductive to the worldy Caesar (Javier Torres), irresistably playful to the laddish Mark Antony (an exuberantly athletic Tobias Batley) and somehow incontrovertibly regal when the latter’s Roman wife attempts to reclaim him.

Claude-Michel Schonberg’s score is at its most effective in Egypt, the flutings and shimmering harmonies akin to perfumed breezes. Music and movement are, however, a tad “Soviet” when it comes to the might of Rome... Nonetheless, this new Cleopatra has all the hallmarks of a crowd-pleaser -- spectacular with flourishes that Cecil B de Mille would approve of, but with an emotional core and tragic humanity that Shakespeare would applaud. Cleo herself would probably want the clothes...

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