York Theatre Royal chief exec Tom Bird to leave after five years for Sheffield Theatres

Tom Bird: Leaving York Theatre Royal for Sheffield Theatres

YORK Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird is flying off to take up the equivalent post at Sheffield Theatres.

He will migrate southwards from York in early 2023, replacing Dan Bates, who left Sheffield earlier this year after 13 years to become executive director of Bradford’s UK City of Culture 2025 programme.

“York Theatre Royal has been such a special part of my life,” says North Easterner Tom, who moved back north in December 2017 from his role as executive producer at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. “I’m enormously grateful to everyone at this outstanding theatre, and the wider community, for their support over the past five years.”

In South Yorkshire, he will work closely with artistic director Robert Hastie, interim chief exec Bookey Oshin, who will stay on as deputy CEO, and the senior team, pulling the strings of the Crucible, the Lyceum and the Tanya Moiseiwitsch Playhouse (formerly the Studio).

Together, these theatres make up the largest producing theatre complex outside London, presenting both in-house and touring productions.

Kyiv City Ballet dancers Nazar Korniichuk and Anastasiia Uhlova reading well-wishers’ messages at York Mansion House when invited to York by Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird

“I’m totally thrilled to be joining Sheffield Theatres as chief executive,” says Tom, who was headhunted for a post he “just couldn’t say ‘No’ to”. “For many years, I’ve admired these daring and beautiful theatres, and the wonderful city they’re at the heart of. I can’t wait to work with Rob, Bookey and the whole of Sheffield’s exceptional team.” 

In London, he directed the Globe to Globe Festival for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, before becoming executive producer at Shakespeare’s Globe, where he produced a tour of Hamlet to 189 countries.

In York, Bird ruffled feathers by implementing the Theatre Royal’s transition from the long-running Berwick Kaler era of pantomime to co-productions with Evolution Productions and met the challenges of the Covid lockdowns to staff, performers and theatregoers alike, while also changing his job title from executive director to chief executive.

On stage in York, in June, he arranged the first ever visit of Kyiv City Ballet to Great Britain, the dancers travelling over from France, where they had been based since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In the first winter of Covid, he and creative director Juliet Forster oversaw The Travelling Pantomime, a socially distanced show taken by van to every York neighbourhood in December 2020, and his Globe years with Emma Rice led to the forging of a partnership with her new company, Wise Children, and in turn the Theatre Royal’s first co-production with the National Theatre for Rice’s adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Changing of the panto guard at York Theatre Royal: Chief executive Tom Bird, centre, with creative director Juliet Forster and writer-producer Paul Hendy, of Evolution Productions. Evolution, by the way, are Sheffield Lyceum Theatre’s partner in pantomime too

What’s in store for Tom in Sheffield? Between them, the three stages welcome 400,000 people on average to performances each year. In addition, Sheffield Theatres runs community engagement and artist development programmes, notably the Sheffield People’s Theatre and Young Company, as well as the Bank Programme, whose purpose is to develops creative talent on a yearly basis.

Looking forward to Bird’s arrival, artistic director Robert Hastie says: “Tom Bird joining Sheffield Theatres as chief executive is great news. He brings a wealth of experience, most recently with our fellow Yorkshire theatre, York Theatre Royal, where he has led with ambition and aplomb. I can’t wait to work alongside him in Sheffield.

“Tom joins us at an exciting time, following our special 50th anniversary year and having welcomed so many people back through our doors to experience the magic of these very special theatres. As we look ahead, I know Tom will make such a positive impact on our work, both on our stages and beyond our walls.”

Lord Kerslake, chair of Sheffield Theatres Trust board, adds: “Sheffield Theatres is renowned for the quality and ambition of its work. It’s an organisation determined to serve its audiences, to deliver bold and brilliant theatre, to innovate, invest in talent and collaborate with its communities.

“In Tom we have appointed a driven, experienced and creative leader who will help shape the next chapter of this world-class organisation. Tom brings huge passion to this role, for the work on and off our stages. I’m excited to see what he, together with Rob and Bookey, and the fantastic Sheffield Theatres team, will achieve together.”

Wuthering Heights: York Theatre Royal’s first co-production with the National Theatre in tandem with Emma Rice’s Wise Childen company in 2021

Corrie bad lad Nigel Pivaro to star in The Commitments at Grand Opera House

Nigel Pivaro: Committing to The Commitments for nine months

CORONATION Street legend Nigel Pivaro will play Da in the 2022-2023 tour of The Commitments, visiting the Grand Opera House, York, from November 7 to 12.

“I’m thrilled to be marking my return to the stage in this production,” he says. “It’s an iconic story that resonates across the years, about people who, though distant from the music’s origins, find communion and expression in the Motown style.

“A musical genre which was borne out of oppression and which the characters embrace as their own. The Motown Sound is as vibrant today as it was when it first burst through in the Sixties.”

Thirty-five years have passed since The Commitments first leapt from the pages of Roddy Doyle’s best-selling novel with its story of the hardest-working and most explosive soul band from the northside of Dublin.

Now comes a new stage production that will kick off a nine-month British and Irish tour in Bromley in September and run until July next summer, taking in more Yorkshire runs at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from October 17 to 2022 and Hull New Theatre from October 31 to November 5.

Doyle says: “I’m delighted that The Commitments are coming back in 2022 and 2023 and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing how Nigel Pivaro tackles the part of Jimmy Rabbitte’s Da.”

Pivaro, 62, who played lovable Corrie rogue Terry Duckworth from 1983 to 2012, will be directed by Andrew Linnie, whose West End debut came in the original production in 2013, playing the role of Dean, the band’s sax player. Linnie later starred in the lead role of Jimmy Rabbitte in the 2016/2017 UK tour.

Joining the cast as Deco will be Olivier Award nominee Ian McIntosh, no stranger to this role, having previously played Alternate Deco during the original West End run. His past credits include Galileo in the UK tour of We Will Rock You, Sid Worley in An Officer And A Gentleman and Barry in Beautiful – The Carole King, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical in the Oliviers.

Further roles will go to James Killeen as Jimmy; Stuart Reid as Joey; Ciara Mackey, Imelda; Michael Mahony, Outspan; Ryan Kelly, Billy; Conor Litten, Dean; Guy Freeman, Derek; Stephen O’Riain, James; Ronnie Yorke, Mickah; Eve Kitchingman, Natalie, and Sarah Gardiner, Bernie.

Maryann Lynch, Alice Croft, James Deegan, Callum Martin, Joshua Barton, Ed Thorpe and Colm Gleeson will make up the ensemble.

Pivaro last appeared at the Grand Opera House in September 2003 in the role of hot-headed Judd in John Godber’s nightclub comedy Bouncers in a face-off with fellow soap bad boy, EastEnders’ John Altman, who played the pontificating yet pugilistic Lucky Eric.

His earlier roles in York were in Attempt To Kill, in 1988, and A Taste Of Honey, in 1989, both at the Theatre Royal; Steven Berkoff’s Greek, in 1993, at York Arts Centre, and as slimy talent agent Ray Say in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, in May 2000, at the Grand Opera House.

York tickets are on sale on 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York; Shefield, 0114 249 6000 or sheffieldtheatres.co.uk; Hull, 01482 300306 or hulltheatres.co.uk.

A past production of The Commitments. Picture: Johan Persson

Back story of The Commitments

THE musical has been adapted from the novel by Booker prize-winning author Roddy Doyle, showcasing more than 20 soul classics performed live on stage.

Among them are Night Train; Try A Little Tenderness; River Deep, Mountain High; In The Midnight Hour; Papa Was A Rolling Stone; Save Me; Mustang Sally; I Heard It Through The Grapevine; Thin Line Between Love and Hate; Reach Out (I’ll Be There); Uptight; Knock On Wood and I Can’t Turn You Loose.

The Commitments tells the story of young, working-class music fan Jimmy Rabbitte, who transforms an unlikely bunch of amateur musicians into an amazing live act that becomes the finest soul band Dublin has ever produced.

Placing a classified advert in a music paper, Jimmy auditions a haphazard heap of wannabes before finalising the members of his new band, which he names The Commitments.

Humour kicks in as the band get to know each other and their instruments, grappling with inter-group differences when muddling their way through early rehearsals for the first gig. Just as they improve and begin to gain a name for themselves, they combust.

The backing singers are more interested in the middle-aged, horn-playing legend; the singer has entered Eurovision; the drummer has walked out mid-gig and the saxophone player has dangerous leanings towards a jazz career. How will it end?

The film flopped but can Rachel Wagstaff’s play crack The Da Vinci Code? Find out at Grand Opera House, York, this spring

Hannah Rose Caton, in character as Sophie Neveu in The Da Vinci Code, at The Temple Church, London,  a location featured in Dan Brown’s story. Picture: Oliver Rosser

THE world-premiere stage adaptation of Dan Brown’s thriller The Da Vinci Code will play the Grand Opera House, York, from May 30 to June 4.

Directed by Luke Sheppard, who was at the helm of the award-winning West End musical & Juliet, the debut tour from January 10 to November 12 will take in further Yorkshire dates in Sheffield, Hull, Leeds and Bradford.

Producer Simon Friend says: “We have a truly stellar cast and creative team bringing The Da Vinci Code to life on stage for the first time, and with Dan Brown’s full endorsement of the show and the talented director Luke Sheppard at the helm, we’re confident that we’ll please devoted fans as well as newcomers to this magnificent story.

“Dan Brown’s epic thriller has been read by millions worldwide and seen by millions worldwide on the big screen, and we’re all looking forward to taking our brand-new stage version to audiences all over the UK.”

Writer Dan Brown says: “I’m thrilled that The Da Vinci Code is being adapted for the stage and excited to see the unique potential of live theatre enhance this story.

Hannah Rose Caton’s Sophie Neveu, Nigel Harman’s Robert Langdon and Danny John-Jules’s Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code. Picture: Oliver Rosser

“The team making the production has been faithful to the book, but will also bring something new for the audience, in what is certain to be a gripping, fast-paced stage thriller and a thoroughly entertaining show.”

Nigel Harman and Danny John-Jules will be performing the roles of Robert Langdon and Sir Leigh Teabing up to April 16 in Newcastle, taking in Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from January 25 to 29 and Hull New Theatre from March 1 to 5.

Harman will re-join the tour from the August 30 to September 3 dates at Leeds Grand Theatre until the Swindon run in late-October.

The casting for Robert Langdon and Sir Leigh Teabing for the York performances and Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre from November 8 to 12 is yet to be announced.

Other roles go to Hannah Rose Caton, in her British theatre debut, as Sophie Neveu; Joshua Lacy, Silas; Basienka Blake, Vernet; Alasdair Buchan, Remy; Alpha Kargbo, Fache; Leigh Lothian, Collet; Andrew Lewis, Saunière, and Debra Michaels, Sister Sandrine/Marie.

Nigel Harman in character as Robert Langdon: Appearing in Sheffield, Hull and Leeds, but not York and Bradford, in The Da Vinci Code

Should you need a quick refresher course on The Da Vinci Code’s plot, the curator of the Louvre, in Paris, has been brutally murdered. Alongside his body is a series of baffling codes.

Professor Robert Langdon and fellow cryptologist Sophie Neveu attempt to solve the riddles, leading to the works of Leonardo Da Vinci and beyond as they delve deep into the vault of history. In a breathless race through the streets of Europe, Langdon and Neveu must decipher the labyrinthine code before a shocking historical secret is lost forever.

The Da Vinci Code has been adapted for the stage by Rachel Wagstaff (Flowers For Mrs Harris, Birdsong) and Duncan Abel (The Girl On The Train). Director Luke Sheppard, who directed What’s New Pussycatat Birmingham Rep, is joined in the creative team by set and costume designer David Woodhead, video designer Andrzej Goulding,the composition and sound design team of Ben and Max Ringham and lighting designer Lizzie Powell.

Sheppard says: “Cracking The Da Vinci Code open for the stage reveals an epic thriller steeped in theatrical potential, rich in suspense and surprising at every turn. Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s brilliant adaptation leaps off the page and demands us to push the limits of our imagination, creating a production that champions dynamic theatrical storytelling and places the audience up close in the heat of this gripping mystery.”

York tickets are on sale at atgtickets.com/york; Sheffield, sheffieldtheatres.co.uk; Hull, hulltheatres.co.uk; Leeds, leedsheritagetheatres.com; Bradford, bradford-theatres.co.uk.

Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary launches with Kenneth Tindall’s Geisha at Leeds Grand Theatre

Ayama Miyata as Aiko and Minju Kang as Okichi in Northern Ballet’s Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

GEISHA, the first of two world premieres to mark Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary, opens tonight at Leeds Grand Theatre.

Telling the emotional story of two young women whose lives are torn apart in the midst of a collision between East and West, the ballet is choreographed and directed by Kenneth Tindall, creator of the Leeds company’s 2017 hit, Casanova, and short works such as The Shape Of Sound.

Running in Leeds from this weekend until March 21 before a national tour that sets off at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre from March 24 to 28, Geisha is an original ballet inspired by true events.

Okichi and Aiko are two young geisha with an unshakeable bond who find themselves on different paths when their world is irrevocably changed after the first arrival of the Americans in Japan. While Aiko finds happiness in her new life, Okichi’s life is devastated and she returns as a ghostly apparition to wreak her revenge.

Geisha is performed to an original score by Alexandra Harwood, played live by Northern Ballet Sinfonia. Sets and costumes are designed by Christopher Oram, who designed Casanova too, with lighting by Alastair West. The scenario has been written by Kenneth Tindall in collaboration with TV and film writer Gwyneth Hughes; historical consultant Lesley Downer completes the creative team.

Leeds tickets are on sale on 0844 848 2700 or at leedsgrandtheatre.com; Sheffield, 0114 249 6000 or sheffieldtheatres.co.uk. Age guidance: 12 plus.

Choreographer and director Kenneth Tindall in rehearsal for Northern Ballet’s Geisha. Picture: Emily Nuttall

Here, Kenneth Tindall, Northern Ballet dancer from 2003 to 2015, choreographer in residence and director of Geisha, answers questions on his new production.

What led you to choose Geisha for your second full-length ballet, Kenneth?

“When [artistic director] David Nixon invited me to create a new full-length ballet for Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary year, we had a lot of discussion about what the title should be.

“Of course you have to consider how the tour will work and the necessity for it to be successful at the box office, but we were also mindful of it being the 50th anniversary and choosing a title that could tie in with that.

“In Northern Ballet’s history, the company has staged two versions of Madame Butterfly, including one choreographed by David himself, which I’ve always been inspired by, but I didn’t want to recreate a ballet that he’d done so well and built a loyal audience for.

“Instead, we came up with the idea for an original ballet about geisha based on true events. I lived and worked in Japan for a year and it’s a culture that I’ve always been fascinated with. The mystery behind the world of geisha is a fantastic prospect for a creative and really sparks the imagination.”

When did you first become interested in the culture of geisha?

“My interest in geisha was first piqued many years ago when I read [Arthur Golden’s] Memoirs Of A Geisha. That was my first introduction to geisha and I quickly realised that there was so much more to it.

Ayama Miyata and Minju Kang in Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

“I found it to be a beautiful first source that captured my imagination and led me into much deeper research. I remember reading the book in the bath and just being fascinated by the way it was written: the colours, the landscape, the feeling, the weather, and just the honour in it all.

“It’s like a whole other world, so opposite to us in most ways that it’s almost hard for a western mind to get around.”

Why choose an original story for Geisha rather than an existing one?

“One of the things that I’m most proud of about Northern Ballet is that they continue to try to do new stories. Not tried and tested scenarios, but completely original and wholly new stories that the audience don’t know.

“I think that it’s incredibly brave of Northern Ballet because it’s a really difficult thing to market. I believe that through the years of doing original ballets like this and producing such great work, the company attracts people to the theatre and hopefully a new audience to the art form as well.”

What were your first steps in the creation of Geisha?

“The first thing I did was establish who was going to create the story with me. Every time I step into a new project, I’m also looking to push my creative process in at least one new direction, so that I can learn something and develop my own skills and ideas for future projects.

Northern Ballet in rehearsal in Leeds for Geisha

“On Casanova I worked with Ian Kelly to create the scenario and I loved that process. I thought it was really interesting to have a novelist and playwright involved and it led to quite a complex story.

“This time I decided I wanted a TV and film writer to help me edit the scenario and form the character arcs, but we also really needed a specialist in the subject to help us fully respect the culture.

“That led me to Gwyneth Hughes to actually write the scenario with, and Lesley Downer to oversee the process and make sure we were on the right track.”

How did you form the scenario for Geisha?

“Gwyneth Hughes and I came together and threw a hundred ideas into the air to see where they would land. We began to disregard ideas we thought wouldn’t make a ballet or that we felt weren’t interesting enough or were too westernised.

Then Gwyneth asked me if I knew the story of Okichi, which I didn’t. I don’t believe the story of Okichi is very well known in the west but, in her hometown of Shimoda, there’s a statue of her.

“I think it’s incredible that this woman, who had a sort of fall from grace and was perceived totally differently in the 19th century, now has a statue where people come to pray.

“You never know what the legacy will be of the choices you make. What makes Okichi’s story more interesting for me is that the legend is so vague, there are many versions of it, which leaves it open.

Minju Kang in Geisha. Picture:Guy Farrow

“This meant we had a structure for the story and then our imagination could run wild. That’s what excited me about Okichi’s story and one of the reasons we chose it. It then also allowed us to incorporate another aspect of Japanese culture with the Obon Festival of the dead.

The Obon Festival is visually stunning and quite overwhelming in some ways. If you take a moment to stop and think about life and death, the idea that you could meet the people that are no longer in your life, the thought is so powerful.

“It just seemed such a natural fit to include the Obon Festival. Over this three-day period, we are able to resolve the conflict that happened in the real world in the first act and then be able to sustain the point of view of Okichi in the second act through her spirit.”

What are the key themes of Geisha?

Above all, Geisha is about two young women who happen to be geisha, and the sisterhood they share. We see the lives of these two women turned upside down with the arrival of the Americans, which was really a turning point in the history of Japan.

“The geisha world as a backdrop is stunning and visual, and something that works really well in theatre, but the interest is actually in who the characters are beyond that.

“The ballet includes themes of life and death, love, loss, redemption and revenge, which are universal themes that any culture can understand.”

Minju Kang in rehearsal for Geisha. Picture: Emily Nuttall

What are the challenges of creating a ballet with an original scenario versus one based on an existing story?

“It has pros and cons. If you choose a story like Romeo & Juliet, you’ve got fantastic theatre. Everything is there for you. The duets, the death, the drama, the excitement, the love, the connection, the families – it’s Shakespeare, it is incredible.

“There’s the reason it’s survived for so long and there are so many reinterpretations of it, because at its foundation, it’s a masterclass of storytelling.

“Having said that, I feel that as a young choreographer it’s my job not to keep going back to these existing texts or resources and think about new stories instead. The pressure is coming up with a story that’s good enough. You’re effectively starting from the beginning, but it means you get to tailor-make work for ballet.”

What has it been like working with your creative team?

“I feel that honest collaboration is a key component to whether something will succeed or not. I like to have an idea but stay open-minded, so that it could go in a new direction.

“I chose my creative team for their incredible skills and I wanted them invested in the project and for them to challenge me. As I mentioned earlier, I chose Gwyneth Hughes to write the scenario with and Lesley Downer as our historical consultant.

“It’s fantastic to work with Christopher Oram on the designs again as we have a relationship from Casanova, and now we get to start again on a higher level and push this project even further.

Minju Kang during rehearsals for Geisha. Picture:Emily Nuttall

“It’s the same with our lighting designer Alastair West. We’ve worked together so often now that for Geisha we started lighting conversations very early and began visualising what could be possible.

“Our composer, Alexandra Harwood, has gone above and beyond. I’ve spent so many hours at her house going through ideas and she’s re-written many scenes; she has such a passion and energy for the project.”

What does it mean to you to create a new ballet for Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary year?

“My first performance with Northern Ballet was when I was eight years old. I was at Central School of Ballet and was picked out of the school to perform in Romeo & Juliet and A Christmas Carol. “When I later got a job at the company, it was a dream come true. I worked up to première dancer and honestly never thought past that. Now it’s the 50th anniversary and I’m choreographing the first première of the year, it’s a little overwhelming.

“When I was asked to do Casanova, I was just so delighted to be given the opportunity but now I’m making a second full-length [ballet], I appreciate what an absolute privilege it is. When I look at where the company is now and the dancers we have, it’s so humbling to think I’m being given the opportunity to work on this level.

“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed and praying ‘long may it continue’ because there are a lot of stories I want to tell, and I just hope that people will allow me to tell them.”

How do you feel that your relationship with the company has evolved now that you have created multiple works for Northern Ballet?

“I’ve been choreographing work for Northern Ballet for almost a decade now and each time my relationship with the company just goes further. It’s like the dancers have learnt my language and are so well versed in it that everything is so much quicker and that it allows us time to go deeper into the process and try new things.

“I like to think that I’ve got a shed full of tools that are sharpened in the finest manner, with all my special handholds on them and I know exactly how to use them. So now, with that in mind, where do we go? And that’s both the terrifying and exhilarating part of it.”

Minju Kang in Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

Q and A with Northern Ballet first soloist Minju Kang, from Seoul, South Korea, who has created the lead role of Okichi in Geisha.

What research have you done to prepare for this role, Minju?

“I did a lot of research online and was able to find information about the true story of Okichi. I looked at pictures of Shimoda, where she’s from, and saw the statue they have of her there.

“I also searched for information and images about geisha in general and their history. I watched the movie of Memoirs Of A Geisha and though the story in our ballet is very different, it was very interesting to see a visual representation of geisha on screen.”

How does Japanese culture compare to South Korean culture? Are there things you can relate to? “We’re neighbouring countries and while there are things that are similar, much is so different. I feel close to it because I am from an Asian culture, but as part of creating Geisha I’ve learned so much that I didn’t know that is different in Japan, like there is a certain way to bow and to kneel.

“For me, though, when I play a character, I completely forget about my nationality, my age and everything else and focus on my character’s journey.”

Does South Korea have anything like geisha?

“In South Korea we have kisaeng, which are very similar, so I already had an idea of what being a geisha was about. Kisaeng are basically entertainers trained in the arts and they dance and play instruments like geisha do.”

Minju Kang applying make-up for Guy Farrow’s photo-session for Northern Ballet’s Geisha

This is the first time you’ve had a role created on you. How has that experience been?

“At first it was overwhelming because you want to be good and it’s a big responsibility. It became really special, though, because I have been able to put something personal into the role.

“Working with Kenneth Tindall and the ballet staff has been real teamwork and we really trust each other, so it was easy for me to open up and not be afraid to give what I have. It’s been such a joy.”

Do you have a favourite scene in Geisha, or a favourite piece of choreography?

“I enjoyed creating the scene with Townsend Harris – although it isn’t a happy scene for my character! When we first began creating it, Kenny [Kenneth Tindall] showed us the movement he wanted, and we tried to copy it and build up from there.

“But it was so important to tell the story clearly we talked about it at length in the studio and focused on the small things. It was less about the movement, and more about a little look, or how I sit down, or the way he grabs me. I had no idea how much of a difference these little things make. When the scene was finished there was a real sense of achievement.”

How would you describe the really emotional journey your character has to go on?

“Okichi is a very supportive person. She feels she’s achieved what she wanted to achieve and now has a sister in Aiko who she fully supports. Because she’s been through it all herself, she can guide her better and is very protective in some ways.

Minju Kang at Northern Ballet’s Geisha photo shoot. Picture: Justin Slee

“She’s there for everyone but then, when she needs help after the Americans arrive, she feels that they are not there for her in return and she can’t share all she wants to share because she feels ashamed.

“She ends up in a very dark and lonely place. In the second act when she comes back as a ghost, she doesn’t even understand at first that she’s dead, she thinks it’s a nightmare.

“Imagine seeing your own dead body – she feels sick at first but then that turns into anger because she can’t reach the people she loves any more.

“Her anger is focused on the Americans and when she takes her revenge, she doesn’t even think about it. It’s only afterwards she realises the hurt she has done to Aiko, the person she loves the most.”

Is it hard for you to portray that range of emotions within a two-hour show?

“Yes definitely! The end of the first act is especially intense. It’s strange how emotion can affect your body, you feel really heavy. It doesn’t necessarily affect me off stage; I go home, I’m fine, I’m happy, but in that moment on stage, I’m so committed to that journey that Okichi is going through and I feel all the emotions.

Riku Ito and Minju Kang in Northern Ballet’s Geisha. Picture: Guy Farrow

Do you enjoy the acting side of your job?

“I do really enjoy it because you get to create another version of yourself that you never knew existed and share that with the audience. The fact that you can find something inside of you to create that character, it’s just like magic.”

Do you like your costumes? Are they easy to dance in?

“They’re amazing. I have about five kimono and they’re all so beautiful, the colours and designs, but also how they’re made and so comfortable to dance in. I could wear them every day!

“It’s an amazing visual when you see the whole cast in their costumes, and the geisha have beautiful fans which have been sourced from Japan by [leading soloist] Ayami Miyata’s aunt.”

What is your process to prepare for a performance?

“I’m sure every dancer would say that they don’t want to be rushed. I give myself plenty of time, about two to three hours to get ready. I make sure I’ve gone out before to get some food, but I don’t like to eat a full meal before a show.

“I do get nervous and I use mindfulness to help with that. I talk to myself a lot in my head and get very quiet to save energy, stay calm and get focused on the performance. I even talk to myself when I’m on stage, encouraging and reassuring myself, and when something has gone well, I can’t hide it on my face.”

Minju Kang and Riku Ito in rehearsal for Geisha. Picture: Emily Nuttall

How important is live music to your performance?

“Music is so important for me, it’s half of the performance. Having a live orchestra is a collaboration and you can feel the connection between the dancers, the conductor and the orchestra, you can feel the support. You’re dancing with them.

“It’s like you’re on this journey together and it’s so special. It’s very different to performing to recorded music. Recorded music is around you but with live music, the music gets inside you.”

How does it feel to be part of Northern Ballet’s 50th anniversary year?

“There are people who have been in the company longer, so, for me, it’s an honour to be part of it. When I learn about the history, I feel really proud of what this company has achieved and where they are now.

“You can feel the work people have put in to take this company to where we are and that’s really touching.”

Minju Kang’s back story

Minju, from Seoul, South Korea, trained at Seoul Arts High School, Korea National Institute for the Gifted in Arts and the Hamburg Ballet School.

She performed with Bundesjugendballett for two years before joining Northern Ballet in 2016. Her roles with the Leeds company have included Victoria in Victoria, Cinderella in Cinderella, Marilla in The Little Mermaid and Mina in Dracula.