Goh Ballet's The Nutcracker is holiday magic on-stage
A Goh Ballet production. At the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Saturday, December 14. Continues until December 22
The Goh Ballet’s richly outfitted and rollicking rendition of The Nutcracker raises one question: how do you define perfection? Classical ballet is so often about perfect line, perfect form, perfect extension, and identical tutu’d dancers in tight rows. But perfection can also be tiny mice scurrying around a stage throwing cheese at toy soldiers, or a herd of velvet-clad little gymnasts flipping and cartwheeling out from under a gigantic hoop skirt.
The company’s beloved, family-friendly Nutcracker had its wobbly moments on its opening Saturday matinee; even the nonstudent members of the program, the headlining Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince from the Royal Danish Ballet, nearly blew a lift and a landing. But there are so many treats stuffed under choreographer Anna-Marie Holmes’s sizable Christmas tree that it’s doubtful anyone noticed. The crowd, including the horde of little boys sitting around me, was having too much fun to care. In other words, no kids were squirming in their Sunday best—and that’s definitely not always the case at other Nutcrackers.
It’s easy to see, five years on, why the Goh’s production has become a yearly Christmas tradition for so many local families. From the moment the curtains open on the Stahlbaum home’s party scene, gilded out like a multiproscenium storybook with a gigantic chandelier and tannenbaum, you feel the warm embrace of the classic. The production benefits hugely from being able to keep its long-standing location at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, now the Westside Church; there’s a sense of festive formality yet intimacy to the auditorium.
From there, the show rides along at the speed of a horse-drawn sleigh. One of the best aspects of this production is the presence of Damien Carriere, a magician and illusionist in his own right, as Drosselmeyer. He literally conjures the magic throughout, making characters appear and disappear and generally keeping the action rolling along. Holmes never loses her sense of fun, whether a gingerbread man is getting his arm tugged off or mouse warriors are getting carted off on stretchers. Endless appearances by tots as mice, lambs, toy soldiers, and angels produce regular “Awwww” moments. And the low-tech but lush production design never scrimps, with a snow scene that takes place under gently falling flakes, complete with silver-antlered “reindeer” and a Bavarian fairy-tale castle off in the distance.
On the dancing side, the Saturday matinee had a particularly sparkly young Clara in Rachel Gibbs, and the tutu’d Dew Drop who led the flower dance, Risa Terasawa, was vibrant while pulling off some powerful fouettes. Teagan Richman-Taylor and Michelle Khoo were fascinatingly doll-like as the Harlequin and Columbine toys, and Snow King Diego Siqueira circled the snowflakes with well-elevated jetés. The Royal Danish Ballet’s Sugar Plum Fairy, Gudrun Bojesen, and Cavalier Prince, Ulrik Birkkjær, look beautiful in the parts, and his variations include a spectacular set of scissor jumps (despite an unsure landing in the first show).
As usual, the players from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra were in top-notch form, keeping up a suitably swift tempo under conductor Kenneth Hsieh. Brenda Fedoruk’s flute and piccolo and Joy Yeh’s harp resounded with sparkling clarity in this production, though for an extended section of the second act they were drowned out by a screaming newborn. It would seem that even Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s glittering strains could not soothe the savage beast, whose parents inexplicably tried to battle the bawling while remaining in their seats.
Perhaps, like so many other families in the audience, they didn’t want to miss any of the holiday magic on-stage. Maybe Drosselmeyer could have helped make them disappear so the rest of the crowd didn’t have the spell broken either.