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NARRATIVE BALLET NORTHERN BALLET: GEISHA Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 6–Sat 9 May

In 2017, Kenneth Tindall taught us a thing or two about Casanova, a man most of us thought had spent all his time between the sheets. It turned out there was more to the Italian lothario, and Tindall’s opulent production for Northern Ballet was a fascinating eye- opener.

Now he’s back with another large-scale ballet for the company he danced with for 15 years, and putting us right on another historical matter. Inspired by real events in 19th-century Japan, Geisha follows the friendship of two women and the men they were professionally and personally involved with (although perhaps not in the way the west perceives). ‘It was important to me that the performative side of geishas, as highly trained and skilled artists, was to be represented,’ says Tindall. ‘But also to show the human behind the mask. Back then, they were the strongest women you could meet, the ones with the most independent choices.’

Act one stays true to history, depicting the story of Okichi, a

famous geisha from Shimoda. But after the interval, and her death, Tindall takes us into the spirit world. ‘We use the Japanese custom of the Obon Festival, an annual three-day event that takes place each August,’ he explains. ‘During the festival, you summon a spirit’s ancestral memory, so we’ve used that to continue Okichi’s story from the point of view of a ghost.’ With a Japanese dancer among the cast (Ayami Miyata, whose

aunt in Kyoto performs traditional fan dances), Tindall was able to root his production in authentic movement and design. The show also benefits from a stirring new score by Alexandra Harwood. ‘What I love about Alex is she was classically trained so understands how to use an orchestra,’ says Tindall. ‘But she then went on to train as a film composer, which is the perfect mix for this ballet. I love the atmosphere created by that cinematic approach and how it helps the narrative along.’ (Kelly Apter)


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CONTEMPORARY BARROWLAND BALLET: INTO THE BLUE Platform, Glasgow, postponed due to COVID-19 virus CLASSICAL BALLET BALLET BLACK Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, postponed due to COVID-19 virus

It’s not uncommon for dance companies to create work for different age groups: a big full-length show for the grown-ups, short fairytale for the kids. But Glasgow- based contemporary dance company Barrowland Ballet has taken a novel approach to cross-generational work. In 2013, Tiger and Tiger Tale grew from the same seed, but blossomed into

two similar but distinct works: one for adults, the other for children. Both toured nationally and internationally with great success, so now Barrowland Ballet is back to recreate the winning formula. Into the Blue is aimed at adult audiences, while the slightly shorter Learning to Fly is tailored for children. Both explore the feelings surrounding a childhood where care and attention is in short supply.

Learning to Fly is the story of a child, and is presented as very immediate and happening to her right now,’ explains choreographer Natasha Gilmore. ‘Whereas with Into the Blue the performers are reflecting back to their childhood and the idea that no matter how old we get, that child is still very much alive inside us.’ As a mother to young children, Gilmore sees first hand on a daily basis how

much TLC goes into raising a child. Did that influence the work? ‘I actually think it’s more about my own experiences as a child,’ she says. ‘I’m from a big family with lots of siblings, so you didn’t always get the attention you wanted. Having said that, the experiences of my own children struggling with feeling different and not fitting in definitely influenced the work’s starting point.’ (Kelly Apter)

In 2001, when Cassa Pancho launched the UK’s first company for dancers of black and Asian descent, abstract ballet was the mainstay. For the next decade it stayed that way until, for Ballet Black’s tenth anniversary, Will Tuckett choreographed the company’s first ever narrative ballet. He started a trend, and the company has had huge success with narrative works ever since. Back for his third Ballet Black commission, Tuckett has created ‘Then Or Now’ inspired by the poems of late American writer Adrienne Rich. ‘Will and I talked about a new piece but we couldn’t find a story we wanted to tell,’ says Pancho. ‘Then he asked me to read these poems, because although they were written in the early 90s, they seem like they’re written now about Brexit or the Windrush scandal; there’s a feeling of displacement. As someone with Caribbean heritage, they resonated with me, and I thought they would resonate with our audience which is a very diverse crowd.’

The poems are interwoven with music by 17th-century composer Heinrich von Biber, a nice contrast to the Etta James song used in ‘The Waiting Game’ by company dancer Mthuthuzeli November. Recently nominated for an Olivier and National Dance Award for ‘Ingoma’, November’s new work follows one woman’s monotonous routine. ‘He explores how she finds a way through the drudgery to enjoy life,’ explains Pancho. ‘It’s a debate about whether she ought to wait for signs to appear to her, or go out and actually makes things happen.’ (Kelly Apter)

1 Apr–31 May 2020 THE LIST 97