Goh Ballet film takes viewers behind scenes of Nutcracker

The Reality of a Dream: A Nutcracker Documentary is a new film by director Ryan Mah

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      Nathaniel Craig knows what it’s like to dance through pain. In an interview with the Straight, the 22-year-old recalls what it felt like doing repetitive jumps in the Russian dance scene in the Goh Ballet’s 2018 version of The Nutcracker.

      “I had quite bad shin splints the entire time,” Craig says. “And I just had to take myself up and push through it.”

      This year, Craig endured a minor muscle-strain injury in his right ankle, but he again bravely soldiered on through rehearsals of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famous two-act ballet.

      He’s one of five young dancers whose moves are featured in The Reality of a Dream: A Nutcracker Documentary, a new film by Vancouver director Ryan Mah showing what goes on behind the scenes of the annual Goh Ballet production.

      “It was really fun to be filmed in rehearsal and get to sort of showcase that part of the process,” Craig says, “because so often, all that the audience gets to see is the polished, perfect, finished product.”

      Chan Hon Goh is a former principal ballerina at the National Ballet of Canada.

      The director of Goh Ballet Academy, Chan Hon Goh, is no stranger to the sacrifices that Craig and the other dancers made in preparing for The Nutcracker. As a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada for many years, she also had to push herself to the limit.

      “When it’s not obvious to people that you’re going to do particularly well—or that you’re the right fit for a certain role or a certain character—it takes all the more determination and strong will, day in and day out,” Goh tells the Straight by phone. “You know, it’s really up to them. And that’s something I have to say for Nathaniel: he’s really kept at it despite the challenges.”

      Natalie May Dixon is another of the dancers featured in Ryan Mah's documentary.

      The dancers in the film come from a wide range of backgrounds. Douglas Oliveira de Souza is a Black refugee from Brazil who’s found solace and developed his identity through dance.

      He says in the film that his friends in his home country used to tease him and his father thought he would become gay if he danced.

      In the film, Douglas Oliveira de Souza talks about the bullying that he endured in Brazil before moving to Canada.

      Another dancer in the film, Yinuo (Shino) Liu, bluntly states “my sport is ballet”, which again speaks to the gruelling nature of this art form. Two other young dancers, Theepika Sivananthan and Natalie May Dixon, are also shown in the film, pushing themselves to be exceptional.

      “I realize how important it is for them to have role models—to have this courage to go for something that maybe they haven’t seen before,” Goh says. “I really love encouraging that. So that’s something very special.”

      Yinuo (Shino) Liu considers dance to be her "sport".

      She’s impressed that Craig has been so bold as to do pointework and try to master classical Chinese dance.

      Craig says that he’s done parts for boys, but mainly in the Chinese classical dance he has danced solos in a full female costume.

      “That would have been true to the tradition of classical Chinese dance in the early 20th century,” Craig says. “They didn’t allow women to perform. So it would be men doing all of the roles. It’s been very interesting.”

      Theepika Sivananthan is the youngest dancer in the film.