Fish Out Of Water: Goh Ballet Academy’s The Nutcracker

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      It might be hard to believe, but the Straight doesn’t know everything (shocker, we know). To prove it, we sent one of our writers to the ballet with no prior knowledge. Here’s what he had to say about Goh Ballet Academy’s The Nutcracker.

      There aren’t many things that I’ve learned from my four-year (or more like six-year) English degree that ended up being valuable. But after watching Goh Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker there was a certain word, coined by Baldassare Castiglione in 1528’s The Book of the Courtier, that immediately came to mind: sprezzatura. Castiglione calls it “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”

      I may not know anything about ballet, let alone ever have watched a ballet, but I knew for one fact that these dancers were oozing sprezzatura.

      It makes sense, after all: Goh Ballet Academy is an internationally renowned institute that’s existed since 1978. The company, which is based in Vancouver, attracts dancers from all over the world… and also travels all around the world. It’s performed in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, France and the U.S.

      I was able to get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at both the studio and some of the performances from The Nutcracker. The studio itself was gorgeous, and turned out to be an old RBC building that was configured into the dance studio. You would have never guessed it used to be a bank, especially since I didn’t get the same existential doom I normally would get walking into an RBC and looking at how little money is in my account. However, the bank vault where all of the glamorous costumes are stored was a bit of a giveaway.

      Coincidentally, I also have no knowledge about costume design (and no, this is not me asking to be assigned to cover a fashion show). But the costumes for these performances were literally sparkling. Like a moth drawn to that ridiculously expensive chandelier under Granville Bridge that everyone seemed to forget about, I was transfixed.

      But you didn’t come here for me to rave about architecture, you want to hear about the performance. It’s important to reiterate that I not only know nothing about ballet, but I’ve never seen a ballet before in my life—except for the one ballet my mom told me I watched on a school field trip in the third grade, but I have no memory of that. I lack the knowledge (and vocabulary) to say anything smart about Goh Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker, but I can tell you that it’ll be worth your time (and money) to watch. Unlike my English degree, which apparently only taught me one word of Italian.

      Like I said four paragraphs ago, these dancers had sprezzatura. Every move, from the very complicated spins and jumps to the simple flick of a wrist, were all timed perfectly and in sync. Because of the behind-the-scenes look, I was given a closer-than-front-row experience where I was within kicking distance of the ballerinas (I did not, nor did they, get kicked). I was able to see how each performer never stopped smiling throughout all these complicated movements, and they made everything look so easy, to the point where I thought I would be able to do exactly what they were doing. (When I told my girlfriend who joined me for the performance, she laughed harder than I’ve ever seen her laugh before. A rude awakening for what she thought of my dance skills, but a very fair assessment.)

      But that’s exactly what sprezzatura is: making an art form look effortless. Goh Ballet Academy has trained its ballerinas to do exactly that. But don’t expect any old performance of The Nutcracker, either. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are some surprise changes that will delight audiences. They incorporate the different cultures of all these dancers into different performances, and even our Nutcracker prince gets a chance to shine, something that’s not seen in typical performances—or so I am told.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to practice some pilates (editor’s note: he means pliés).

      Goh Ballet Academy's The Nutcracker will be at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from December 15 to 18. Tickets are available for purchase online.