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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
Spectacular Cleopatra
Lauren Anderson and Timothy O'Keefe as Cleopatra and Caesar
Cleopatra is a stunning, colourful spectacle
by BBC News Online's Steve Schifferes

The Houston Ballet's Cleopatra, which had its UK premiere at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London on Tuesday, is an old-fashioned spectacle done with verve in glorious Technicolor.

The US-based company brought the new full-length ballet to London, complete with 53 dancers, 28 costume changes, and a set so spectacular it prompted several outbursts of spontaneous applause.

But if the barge bringing Cleopatra back to Egypt from Rome looked amazing, it was its occupant who dominated the proceedings.

Lauren Anderson, the African-American prima ballerina of the Houston Ballet, stole the show as Cleopatra, in the role specially created for her by British-born choreographer and company director Ben Stevenson.

Impressive

Her dramatic range was as impressive as her dancing, whether it was as the haughty queen resisting her brother's machinations, or the seducer of Marc Anthony, or the grieving lover of a murdered Caesar.

Anderson is already a celebrity in her home town of Houston, where she also hosts a radio show, but on the evidence of this performance she is ready for international stardom.

Ms Anderson did have all the best solos, but she was ably supported by principal dancers Timothy O'Keefe as Julius Caesar and especially Dominic Walsh as Marc Anthony.

Mauricio Canete with artists of Houston Ballet
The Houston Ballet has strong links with the Royal Ballet
The strong cast includes ballet master Li Anlin as the trusted servant Alcebiades and a muscular Nicholas Leschke as the traitor Pothinus.

In style, the Houston Ballet marks a welcome return of the full-length programme ballet, with echoes of the classic British ballets once created by Kenneth MacMillan for the Royal Ballet or John Cranko for the Stuttgart Ballet.

That is not surprising, given the company's strong links to the Royal Ballet.

British influence

Its founder and director for the last quarter of a century, Ben Stevenson, was trained in Britain and started his career dancing with Dame Alicia Markova in the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet.

Its associate choreographer is Christopher Bruce, the long-time choreographer of the Ballet Rambert.

And the musical arranger of the lively Rimsky-Korsakov score, John Lanchbery, also has UK roots.

Overall, the all-too-rare visit by the Houston Ballet shows that the UK's rich dance tradition is flourishing in what might seem an unlikely location.

Cleopatra continues at Sadler's Wells until Saturday, 7 April, with a mixed programme on Thursday and Friday.

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