The beast is yet to come

Martha Leebolt with Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon - credit Justin Slee
Martha Leebolt with Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon - credit Justin Slee
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THEY get value for money out of their dancers at Yorkshire’s world-famous ballet company.

For example, when we catch up with Martha Leebolt she is on a break from rehearsing for Beauty & The Beast – ahead of the evening performance of Madame Butterfly.

Martha Leebolt

Martha Leebolt

Then the award-winning 29-year-old dancer is used to sacrifice and toil, having quit her native USA as a teenager to follow her dream to the UK.

“It’s difficult, it’s a hard job, but it’s what we trained to do,” she says when we question the challenge of being in two shows at any one time.

“Since we start from a young age you’re required to be learning more than one ballet at a time, so you kind of get used to it.

“We rehearse six hours a day, most days unless we’re performing.

Martha Leebolt.

Martha Leebolt.

“By the time you get on to the stage it’s muscle memory.

“Also the music helps a lot; once you hear the music you know your steps, they just come out naturally in your body.

“And the music is very different between Beauty and Madame Butterfly so there’s really no way to get confused.”

Originally from San Diego, Martha spent a year in Columbus, Ohio, before heading to England aged 19 with the then newly appointed Northern Ballet artistic director David Nixon.

Northern Ballet photo by Jason Tozer. Beast played by Ashley Dixon, Beauty by Martha Leebolt.

Northern Ballet photo by Jason Tozer. Beast played by Ashley Dixon, Beauty by Martha Leebolt.

She’s now in her 11th year with the Leeds-based company.

“I did my biggest growing up years here. You get offered jobs in Europe… and England is a wonderful place to dance, the arts are strong and it’s an amazing place to work.

“Ballet is very difficult to get into and there are tons of amazing dancers who don’t have jobs just because there’s a lack of jobs.

“That said there’s more of a market here. There’s more chance to perform because more people want to come to the theatre, but I’d love to dance in America one day.”

Northern Ballet photo by Jason Tozer. Beast played by Ashley Dixon, Beauty by Martha Leebolt.

Northern Ballet photo by Jason Tozer. Beast played by Ashley Dixon, Beauty by Martha Leebolt.

For Beauty and previous Northern hit Cleopatra, Nixon choreographed the lead role on to Martha, a sure sign that she is reaching the peak of her career.

“David’s a wonderful director to work for and he’s a wonderful choreographer because he tends to use your strengths.”

Northern has long been a favourite with audiences in South Yorkshire, along with the rest of the world, often tackling stories we know yet maybe wouldn’t think could become ballet.

“A lot of the public really enjoy narrative work and that’s what we’re really great at, bringing a story alive on the stage.

“The public really seem to enjoy the stories even if we are changing the route of it.

“We haven’t tweaked the Beauty story at all, but it’s not Disney – this is definitely our own creation.

Northern Ballet photo by Jason Tozer. Beast played by Ashley Dixon, Beauty by Martha Leebolt.

Northern Ballet photo by Jason Tozer. Beast played by Ashley Dixon, Beauty by Martha Leebolt.

“Even if you’re not a ballet lover you can come and enjoy the music and the picturesque point of view of it.

“Every scene is almost like a painting, it’s so beautiful and the grand scale of it… the set is huge and everything about it is enormous.”

Yet this detailed work and often-incredible shows are usually staged with a low budget.

That says a great deal for the work and innovation that goes on behind the scenes, as well as the talented feet of the cast.

“We reach the most people in the most cities so we have the toughest touring schedule in the country,” Martha says of the workload.

“But the shows are what we love to do and what the audience wants, so that’s what we put forward.

“We’re constantly making new work and so people are always getting opportunities to create new roles and that’s what’s so special about working here, there are so many opportunities to explore as a dancer and an artist.

“But we’re a real team and our achievements are as one.”

The Lyceum hosts Beauty & The Beast from Tuesday until Saturday. Madame Butterfly reaches Sheffield in September.