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Northern Ballet - Geisha - World premiere and spring tour 2020

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24 minutes ago, bridiem said:

There was a nice item on the Today programme on Radio about NB's anniversary and Geisha - started c 8.45am and presumably available on iplayer. They interviewed David Nixon and Kenneth Tindall.

It was informative except the BBC forgot to end the feature by giving locations and dates of performances. 

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Amazing night watching the hugely talented cast members (including my husband) of Northern Ballet. It is very true that the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts and each and every ingredient in this incredible fusion of art combined to make the perfect Japanese recipe. The fabulous choreography, beautiful music, stunning design and arguably the best dramatic dancers in the nation produce a veritable visual and emotional feast that will remain etched in your heart and mind for a lifetime. Yet again, another triumph for Kenny and a sure success for the Northern Ballet. 

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So I trekked across to Yorkshire yesterday afternoon for the long-awaited premiere of Northern Ballet's Geisha.


The opening scene was absolutely stunning - set in a fishing village where the Geisha Mother comes to see if a young (4yo) Okichi will be suitable for Geisha life.  The scan opens with fishermen manipulating a big net.  The set is almost in darkness but lighting designer and (IMHO) lighting genius Alastair West makes the dancers stand out within the darkness.


Okichi becomes a Geisha and befriends a younger trainee Aiko.  They have some joint experiences together.  In one ravishing scene we see other Geishas performing a fan dance - their stylised kimonos are absolutely ravishing.  In another Okichi and Aiko enjoy a visit to a kimono shop where Okichi flirts with the Samurai Takeda. The set is very simple with sliding screens and some back projections and it really does give an impression of Japan in a bygone era.  


When the American consul and his staff arrive Okichi and Aiko are sent to him by the local mayor.  Aiko and the consul's friend Henry become fond of each other but the consul is too harassed and disinterested in Okichi until he takes her unwillingly.  She tries to return to the Geisha House but is sent back to the consul.  Rejected by everyone she decides to kill herself.


Act 2 is positively surreal.  It is set during the Festival of the Dead.  The set is very dark and very atmospheric.  The ghosts appear and the family members come to celebrate them.  Okichi doesn't seem to realise she is dead.  She persuades her lover Takeda to murder Henry, Aiko's beau.  There is the most amazing duet for Okichi and Takeda where she is almost controlling him like a puppeteer.  


Aiko is devastated by Henry's death and comes to remember him every year at the Festival of the Dead.  Okichi tries to reach out to her but Aiko will not respond.  As the years pass and Okichi starts to fade away, eventually there is a reconciliation between the 2 friends.  The passage of time is portrayed by successive rows of lanterns being lowered and by trees being planted.  It is incredibly beautiful and the interactions between Aiko and Okichi are heart-rending and intensely moving.


Yes, this almost is a ballet of 2 halves and I have seen people liken its structure to Giselle.  The parallels are definitely there but this is so much more than just a different remake of Giselle.  The redemption is between friends rather than a romance.  Okichi was a real and renowned Geisha and the American Consul and Henry were also real people.  Kenny Tindall and his team have taken some facts and woven this tale of desire, rejection, betrayal and ultimately redemption around those facts.


The leading roles were created by Minju Kang as Okichi and Sarah Chun as Aiko with Riku Ito as Takeda, Joseph Taylor as Henry and Daniel de Andrade as the consul.


Joseph Taylor really is a romantic lead and his relationship with Sarah Chun was very believable.  It was a real pleasure to see Daniel de Andrade taking the stage again as the Consul and he has lost nothing of his presence in the years since his official retirement.  He was every inch the harassed and almost disinterested Consul.  Minju Kang and Sarah Chun gave quite remarkable performances as Okichi and Aiko - it certainly was a tour de force from both ladies.


The score, by Alexandra Harwood, melded beautifully with the action.  There was a definite oriental tone to the music, and the orchestra under the baton of music director Jonathan Lo, sounded wonderful.  The set and costumes were gorgeous and the lighting was outstanding.


Altogether this is another outstanding work from Kenneth Tindall and the glorious dancers of Northern Ballet did him proud.  I can't wait to this Geisha again but I suspect that the next government announcement may prevent that.  Fingers crossed I get the opportunity to see this compelling new work again very soon.


I believe a couple of reviews are already in and I am sure they will be included in Links tomorrow.  In the meantime her's a rather nice preview feature from yesterday's Yorkshire Post:  https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/arts-and-culture/theatre-and-stage/geisha-northern-ballets-exciting-new-season-gets-underway-leeds-2449466


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