Goh Ballet's Snow Queen prepares for The Nutcracker's winter wonderland

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When Yoshiko Kamikusa steps on-stage during the Goh Ballet Academy’s upcoming production of The Nutcracker, what will have the Vancouver resident most excited isn’t the rhinestone-bedecked tutu and tiara she gets to wear in her debut as the Snow Queen. It will be the fact that she will be sharing the stage with principal dancers from two of North America’s biggest ballet companies. No small feat for a Grade 9 student who started taking dance lessons in her native Tokyo just eight years ago.

“The Snow Queen is an important role because it’s in the snow scene that brings Act 1 to a close,” the poised Kamikusa says on the line from the Goh Ballet Academy in between rehearsals and homework. “It’s a hefty part and a big responsibility. But it’s sinking in, and I’m comfortable and confident doing it because we’ve had so much opportunity to work on it”¦.Having so many rehearsals and performance opportunities gives me the chance to improve, and I’m so grateful for that.”

Under the artistic direction of Chan Hon Goh, a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, the Goh Ballet’s version of the holiday tradition rivals anything to come out of Lincoln Center: think dozens of snowflakes pirouetting in perfect unison, serene pas de deux, and elaborate, exquisite costumes in every colour under the North star.

This season, the Goh Ballet Academy has already presented its $700,000 Nutcracker in Victoria, earning sparkling reviews. The full-length production, which is based on the E.T.A. Hoffmann story about a little girl whose dreams take her to a magical winter wonderland, comes to the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts next Thursday to Sunday (December 16 to 19), complete with an illusionist, ballroom dancers, and live musical accompaniment of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s famous score by members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra. Choreographed by Anna-Marie Holmes, it also has a number featuring a drag queen.

Then there are guest appearances by the National Ballet of Canada’s Sonia Rodriguez and Piotr Stanczyk, plus Mara Vinson and Karel Cruz from Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet. Their presence is not only a treat for local balletomanes but also provides the dance stars of tomorrow with invaluable mentorship.

Kamikusa’s goal is to be a principal dancer in a big ballet company one day herself. Allowing aspiring artists like her to do challenging numbers in front of large, live audiences is one reason the Goh Ballet Academy decided to mount the Christmas classic, which had its world premiere last season. (Kamikusa was an emerald-green Dew Drop in that show.)

“Young dancers have to be able to study technique but they also have to be able to perform,” says Choo Chiat Goh, who founded the local company in 1977 with his wife, Lin Yee Goh, in a phone interview from his office. “The Nutcracker is a very good program for them to learn to advance their careers. And they’ve had so much support: from their teachers to local artists and audiences to their families.

“I’m even more excited about this show than I was last year,” adds the former Central Ballet of China principal dancer. “The dancers are more mature and more confident. And how can anyone resist The Nutcracker? It’s so beautiful.”

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Jackie Bernard
It's a must for my daughter and I to see the Nutcracker every year - we are really looking forward to it, especially after reading this review!
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