Skip to main content
Alexandra Harwood conducting in rehearsals

The Making of Geisha with Alexandra Harwood

Dive deep into the the creation of GeishaAlexendra Harwood, the composer, tells us about her process, infulences, challenges and we get to hear a little of this brand-new composition performed by live musicians.


Filmed & edited by

Video Supported by


I'm Alexandra Harwood and I'm composing a new ballet, Geisha, for Northern Ballet.

And I could read music before I could read and write words.

What I've always loved writing for is something that I can respond to.

What I really love is storytelling and that's why I'm drawn to film, that's why I love theatre and that's why I love ballet.

I think the first ritual I have when I'm composing is coffee, and nothing can happen before I have my coffee. So my day is generally always the same, and the way it goes is this: I wake up somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00 and I take my golden retriever for a walk, and that is actually incredibly important to my process, believe it or not. One, it wakes me up quickly. When I'm walking, I get many many more ideas than when I'm sitting at my desk so it's a really, really good way of freeing my mind.

It was very exciting for me to work with these two amazing musicians and hear it come to life. I get so overly emotional and impressed by these people bringing my music to life. I get overwhelmed. You know it's funny, when I listen back to my music, and particularly when you've had a live recording, I often hear it very very differently, and then when I get home and I hear it again, I hear it differently again.

I eventually met Kenneth Tindall, the choreographer. Kenny, to me. We met for a meeting. I knew he had to meet a couple of other composers, and then a couple of weeks later I got a dream email from Kenny saying that he'd like to work with me and I was very very excited. He told me the premise of our ballet, Geisha, and it ticked a lot of boxes for me because I love anything that takes me out of my normal comfort zone and the fact that it's for live orchestra, because Northern Ballet are an extraordinary company that they do tour with a live orchestra.

Kenny... He wanted the whole score before he started choreographing so for me that was a fascinating process and a little bit alarming at the beginning because I was thinking but I don't know what's going on! The primary use of music in this ballet, other than for the dancers to dance to, was to tell the story and themes of our ballet, and those themes are love, loss, life and death, redemption, loneliness and sisterhood. So there's a lot of emotional content in this ballet and that was what we really wanted the music to do and support.

I wanted to use the colour of Japanese instrumentation. We have got some exotic instruments but we've had to use them in the sampled keyboard because Northern Ballet having its own orchestra is a standard orchestra setup with strings and wind and percussion, but we needed some exotic instruments like a koto which is a plucked instrument and a shamisen which is one of the main instruments that geisha would play themselves.

There's a kind of real beauty to this story so I'd love people to feel really moved and touched by it. I think that's the goal, make them cry.

And smile.