Ballet looks at passions and power of an ancient queen

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Dancer Martha Leebolt said it has been fascinating creating the role of one of the world’s most famous and powerful women in history, Cleopatra

Martha said that one of the biggest challenges for Northern Ballet’s artistic director David Nixon, who created the ballet Cleopatra in collaboration with her, was to condense the Egyptian queen’s incredible life into two hours.

She said: “It’s really fast paced. You’ve got all of her different relationships with all the different people she was associated with. But there wouldn’t be any point in doing part of her life, you have to see all of it including her famous lovers, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.”

For the company’s premier dancer, Cleopatra is “one of the most interesting roles I’ve ever played. When we created it a few years ago, it was the first ballet that David made with me so it is really significant to me.

“I did so much research on her. She was such an interesting person, so strong and powerful, especially for her time.

“I have found that one of the most interesting things. It was difficult to act powerful and be so strong. That’s how I see her, as an amazingly powerful person. I never want to let go of that while I’m performing.”

In one of the early scenes Cleopatra kills her brother and rival, Ptolemy, in his bath. Martha said: “That’s a really hard scene, as it’s near the beginning, just after you’ve been shot out of the cannon, so it’s tough.”

She said: “The creative processes here are very interesting. It’s one of the most exciting points of my career as a dancer.

“Not every dancer gets the opportunity to do this.

“It’s definitely an experience I am proud to have lived and will treasure always, working so closely with someone and creating a piece together.”

She believes that the unusual choice of story is part of Northern Ballet’s appeal, adding: “David is constantly coming up with new and interesting subjects and pieces to do.”

Martha said her favourite roles at any time were always the current ones, continuing: “It’s easiest because you’re in the middle of it. Cleopatra is the closest to me because it was the first one I was involved in creating.”

She is proudest of her last four roles with Northern Ballet in Cleopatra, Beauty and the Beast, The Great Gatsby and Cinderella, because of those creative collaborations.

Martha is very busy currently, switching between the roles of Cinderella and Cleopatra on tour.

She said that the dancers remember the steps for different parts by taking classes every day, with teachers giving different exercises and practising different aspects of the choreography.

She added: “We remember them because it’s kind of in our training and the music helps a lot. When you hear a piece you associate the steps with it and you do it over and over again.”

Martha, who is from California, is in her 13th year with Northern Ballet.

She explained: “I came with David when he got the job here. He brought two dancers and I was one of them.

“I came straight out of ballet school so it was my first job. If someone offers you a contract to come to England when you’ve just turned 19, you just do it.

“I came for a couple of years and 13 years on, here I am, still here. It’s wonderful to be on this side of the world, on a 52-week contract, where art is really appreciated.”

She said that she is looking forward to returning to Sheffield.

“It’s nice because it’s close to Leeds, where we are based.

“The audiences in Sheffield are always so enthusiastic. It’s exciting to come to a city where they really want to see you.”

Cleopatra is at the Lyceum Theatre from next Tuesday to Saturday. Tickets: visit the Crucible box office, call 0114 2496000 or go online at