In a fresh approach to ancient history, Columbus Dance Theatre will tell the grand story of Cleopatra, queen of the Nile. Cleopatra will feature dance, music, theater and video during its premiere Friday and Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre - a fitting venue, considering its Egyptian revival interior.
In a fresh approach to ancient history, Columbus Dance Theatre will tell the grand story of Cleopatra, queen of the Nile.
Cleopatra will feature dance, music, theater and video during its premiere Friday and Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre — a fitting venue, considering its Egyptian revival interior.
The story of the ill-fated monarch has been told many times — from ancient historian Plutarch’s writings to the 1963 epic movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton — but the new combination of performance elements is unusual, said Tim Veach, artistic director of Columbus Dance Theatre.
The production is based on Shakespeare’s early 1600s drama Antony and Cleopatra, but, Veach said, “I don’t think anyone has ever done this approach."
Two Antonys and two Cleopatras will take the stage, one pair dancing and one pair acting.
The Carpe Diem String Quartet, a frequent performance partner with the dance company, will play original music composed by violinist Charles Wetherbee, a co-founder of the quartet. Video footage of dance, text and photography will round out the production.
Cleopatra’s story is a messy one. She ruled Egypt shortly before the time of Christ alongside her husband, Ptolemy XIII, who was also her brother. He was a teenager and she was in her 20s when he drove her from the throne.
She took up with the Roman general Julius Caesar and bore him a son. After his death and those of Ptolemy XIII and a second husband/brother, Ptolemy XIV, Cleopatra became a lover and an ally with Roman general Mark Antony. She bore him children, married him and defended the independence of Egypt from Rome. But Antony, after being defeated by rival Octavian, killed himself. Then Cleopatra soon took her life.
About two dozen dancers will perform — members of the dance company, students of its dance school and students from Towson University in suburban Baltimore, where Cleopatra will be performed in March.
Jaime Kotrba will dance as Cleopatra; Seth Wilson, her husband, will dance as Antony. Veach said the casting of the married dancers in the lead roles was a “happy accident.”
In contrast, Veach’s casting of himself in the acting role of Antony and Christina Kirk, his wife, in the acting role of Cleopatra was quite intentional, a product of their marriage.
Kirk, an actress, teaches in the Theater and Dance Department at Otterbein University. She and Veach met as theater students at the University of Illinois.
More than a year ago, “We were having a car ride and brainstorming the season and talking about doing something together,” Veach said. “We love working together.”
They lit upon Shakespeare’s story of Antony and Cleopatra and decided to focus on the queen.
“It’s Cleopatra’s journey, but Antony is essential,” Kirk said. “It is a love story.”
She selected passages from the play for the speaking roles of Antony and Cleopatra. “It’s all Shakespeare’s words,” she said. “Whenever possible, I tried to maintain the integrity” of the text.
While the couple act, the dancing Antony and Cleopartra will fill the stage.“In certain places, the dancers propel the plot forward,” Veach said.
Wetherbee’s music will add to the atmosphere.
“I listened to a lot of recordings of Egyptian music, Middle Eastern music,” he said. “ Present-day music is not necessarily indicative (of ancient Egypt), but I wanted to capture an element, a flavor, that would transport a visitor to the Middle Eastern world.”
Cleopatra was developed through a $35,000 grant from PNC Arts Alive. The production also features dancer Amelia Larkin as Antony’s Roman wife, Octavia; Gavin McNally as Octavian, Antony’s rival; and Mae Chesney as Charmian and Stefani Crea as Iras, Cleopatra’s handmaidens.
Ricky Gonzalez created the scenery, and Elizabeth Hopkin, the costumes.
Veach appears to have eagerly attacked the challenge of the production: “Can we take this work from Shakespeare and re-imagine it, with a post-modern lens, with dance and music and video, and render it out for a contemporary audience?”
Said Wetherbee: “Tim’s vision for this is just terrific. It’s enormous but .?.?.?. it has great clarity.”