Cleopatra chants to the gods, summoning the God Wadjet, protector of the Pharaohs. With his kiss comes ultimate freedom and a place with the gods. He slowly appears in the form of a snake and slithers across her breast, before taking a human form.
Wadjet holds Cleopatra firmly in his arms, drawing her closer. A shaft of light suddenly breaks through, revealing a golden throne. This is the throne of the Egyptian Pharaohs and that of the Ptolemys – Cleopatra’s family.
It is the wedding of Cleopatra to her brother Ptolemy. Left alone they stalk each other and begin a game of dominance. In the end Ptolemy throws Cleopatra from the throne. It is clear that there will only be one king and no sharing of power with Cleopatra.
Cleopatra’s handmaidens come to bathe Ptolemy. Understanding that with her brother alive she will never be Queen, Cleopatra plunges Ptolemy’s head into the water, with the aid of her handmaidens.
With his death Cleopatra sits on the throne alone – a move which unleashes chaos in Egypt. She flees into hiding. The Romans, who embody order, rigidity and power, arrive in Egypt.
Caesar falls into an epileptic fit as he touches the bath in which Ptolemy died. As he recovers he is presented with a gift by two of Cleopatra’s hand maidens. A carpet is unrolled before him, within it is Cleopatra. Caesar is taken aback, not just by her beauty but by the cleverness of the trick.
With Cleopatra acknowledged as Queen, they board her royal barge on the Nile. Caesar’s passions are set aflame by the fertility, sensuality and excess of Egypt. He takes Cleopatra passionately and ultimately the child Caesarion is born.
On the streets of Rome, politics are played. Caesar returns and is hailed victor, but with Cleopatra and Caesarion by his side the atmosphere shifts and the politics change.
Cleopatra has a premonition about the powers of Rome. Alone in her bed she sees the shadows alive with deadly intentions. Caesar comes to her and she tries to warn him but he refuses to listen.
Night becomes day – the Ides of March – and Caesar is encircled by senators and killed. A second chaos is unleashed. Cleopatra flees and the new players emerge: Octavian, Antony and his wife Octavia, sister to Octavian.
Cleopatra is back in Egypt, lost in disappointment and grief. As she approaches the throne she senses the power of the Pharaohs and sheds her human emotions to once again wear the mantle of god-queen.
The Romans return, this time led by Mark Antony. Cleopatra approaches him: a vision of the Gods of Egypt, untouchable by mortal hands, a queen to command the world. She gazes skywards and as she laughs the ceiling rains down in flowers.
Cleopatra returns to her throne and watches as a feast begins. When it reaches a climax, she pulls forth a goblet, places a pearl in it and drinks. This act of utter extravagance arouses Antony. He takes Cleopatra wildly, but she matches his every move, bringing him to a physical and emotional state he has never reached before. Leaving him to sleep, she slips away, sending in her most beautiful men and women to keep him seduced by the sensuality and excess of Egypt.
The powers of Rome – Octavian, Octavia and the military – watch Antony’s indulgence in Egypt. In an attempt to keep the peace in Rome, Octavia goes to bring her husband home. Antony greets Octavia and is reconciled to his wife but Cleopatra slithers between them like a snake. Antony withdraws leaving the two women to argue over him. Cleopatra wins and Octavia returns to Rome empty-handed.
Octavian rushes to Egypt with his army. Battle ensues between Octavian and Mark Antony, the latter losing because of his fallen physical condition. Octavian stands over the defeated Mark Antony and lays his sword down for Mark Antony to do the honourable thing.
Mark Antony is destroyed. He cannot even find the power to kill himself. Cleopatra comes to him and Antony begs for his lover’s aid to take his life. The knife cuts deep and Antony dies in Cleopatra’s arms.
Cleopatra doesn’t know which way to turn. Face-to-face with Wadjet she draws the snake closer but he pulls back. He has fallen under her spell and is no longer willing to take her life, but unable to resist his nature he plunges venom into her breasts. As she dies, the walls around her rise and the gods extend their arms. Wadjet dies and Cleopatra ascends to her destiny.
Images are Northern Ballet dancers in Cleopatra's 2011 world première. Photos Bill Cooper.