Northern Ballet celebrates its 50th anniversary in boldly adventurous style with a new narrative work by company-reared choreographer Kenneth Tindall. Geisha is a carefully crafted and ambitious undertaking.
Tindall, working with librettist Gwyneth Hughes and cultural consultant Lesley Downer, takes as his source material the part-historical, part-mythologised story of 19th century geisha Okichi, who killed herself after a brutal run-in with an American official. From there we’re transported to a ghost world, as Okichi’s restless spirit seeks vengeance and forgiveness.
It’s an intriguing, absorbing mix in which elements of de rigueur romance are overtaken by dances of female friendship and visions of an eldritch, anguished afterlife. Minju Kang’s Okichi and Sarah Chun’s Aiko make for charming pals, the spooling calligraphy of their movement winding between butterfly delicacy and scudding vitality. Tindall also creates exciting coil-and-spring waves of martial motion for a samurai ensemble, while the US trade coterie are a buoyant bunch in waistcoats and breeches, gobbling up space in leaps and bounds.
While the pace occasionally slackens, there’s real poignancy in the second act, as the undead Okichi, her head hanging limp and heavy in bitter isolation, watches Aiko and her American beau rapturously caper together. A ghoulish procession of dead souls, drifting among the living, makes for another memorable sequence.
It’s a handsome production: Christopher Oram’s costumes abound in colour and texture, complemented by a niftily flexible set and Alastair West’s atmospheric lighting. Alexandra Harwood’s evocative score, though amplified harshly on occasion, is played with gusto by Northern’s orchestra.