Ex-ballet star Charlotte had to say ‘I do’ to new Cleopatra role

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Sheffield-born ballet dancer Charlotte Schönberg is back in her home city with a dance version of Cleopatra that her world-famous husband helped to create.

Charlotte is married to composer Claude-Michel Schönberg, who wrote the music for global hits Les Miserables and Miss Saigon. They met when he wrote his first ballet score, Wuthering Heights, for Northern Ballet and Charlotte created the female lead role of Cathy.

Now retired from a successful stage career, former principal dancer Charlotte has been working with Northern Ballet again as part of the creative team on Cleopatra, for which her husband wrote the music and scenario.

She has been working with the dancers throughout the rehearsal period.

The couple spent a year in the same rehearsal room in Leeds when they were creating Wuthering Heights but the romance took a lot longer to get going.

Charlotte said: “We joke about this now. We worked together for a year before we spoke to each other! He used to sit in a corner of the rehearsal room and just conferred with artistic director David Nixon.”

They only met properly when Claude-Michel asked her out for lunch to celebrate the show’s successful run on tour and in London.

She had to make an embarrassing confession to him. “After lunch I had to admit that I hadn’t seen Les Miserables. There wsas hysterical laughter. He said you can come and see it if you like! Since then I’ve seen it many times.”

That included watching the film version of the show being recorded on set. Charlotte was very impressed that the actors sang live, as it is so difficult for non-singers. “I watched Hugh Jackman singing Bring Him Home. He had to do that 10 times.”

Charlotte said playing Cathy in Wuthering Heights was a special thrill because it was the first role she created with David Nixon.

She is proud that lots of Northern Ballet fans ask when the show will be revived.

It’s also a pleasure for her to be back at the Lyceum with Cleopatra, as it is a stage in her home city that she has danced on.

Charlotte was born in Nether Edge Hospital and was brought up in Ecclesall, where her parents Jenny and Keith Talbot still live. She went to Silverdale School and learned to dance at the Bailey-Cox Dance Academy.

She only started ballet lessons by chance: “My mum’s friend’s daughter was a year older and she went. They wanted to have a coffee and decided to send me as well. I was only three and a bit too young to start but nobody noticed.

“Later on I started to do speech and drama with the Joy Reynolds school.

“When I was 11 I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

The youngster had trouble convincing her teachers at Silverdale of her ambition, though. It was only when she turned up with ballet school prospectuses that they realised she was serious.

Charlotte said one of her old teachers came to see her dance at the Lyceum and went backstage to apologise that she hadn’t been taken seriously.

Her association with Northern Ballet started as a youngster when she was taken with a friend to see the company’s performances in Manchester. She saw ballet superstar Rudolf Nureyev in action when he was a guest performer.

Eventually she went to train at the Central School of Ballet in London. She caught the eye of the late Christopher Gable, who was both a director of the school and the artistic director of Northern Ballet Theatre, as it was then. Charlotte said: “I was lucky enough to get a job in the company straight from school.”

She said she worked her way up through the ranks by offering to take on roles at short notice if a dancer had to drop out.

“I really learned everything that way,” said Charlotte. “I had a lot of time to watch and learn from the principal dancers. Some of the ballets I appeared in are still in the repertoire, like Romeo and Juliet and A Christmas Carol.”

Charlotte, who now lives in London, is mum to Lily, aged eight. She said: “Lily wants to live in Sheffield.

“She thinks it revolves around Chatsworth and visiting Whirlow Hall Farm. We’ll be going again while I’m here. That’s what I did when I was little too.”

Her mum and dad are coming to see Cleopatra during its run at the Lyceum. Charlotte said: “If you can convert my dad to ballet, it must be good!

“He’s not exactly a fan and it wouldn’t be his first choice but he’s seen this before and he’s coming again.”

Cleopatra is at the Lyceum until Saturday. Box office at the Crucible, call 0114 249 6000 or go online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk