A Goh Ballet production. At the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts on Thursday, December 15. Continues until December 18
The gleaming ornament that is Goh Ballet’s Nutcracker has not lost any of its sheen in the last couple years. The new version of the classic that the company launched in 2009 still stands up against any touring productions—but its appeals are very different from what you’ll find elsewhere.
I’m going to go out on a Christmas-tree limb here and say this is one of the most child-friendly renditions of The Nutcracker out there. This show rides along at such a high speed that there are no lulls—not even in the usually endless opening party scene. And copious goodies await along the way: one minute, dozens of tiny gymnasts come flipping and cartwheeling out of the gigantic skirts of towering drag star Christopher Hunte as Mere Gigogne; at others, a life-sized gingerbread man gets his arm tugged off and mice battle by hurling big wedges of Swiss cheese. Throughout, a real magician (the charismatic Damien Carriere, as Drosselmeyer) makes entire characters appear and disappear before your eyes. The production design is sumptuous, too, morphing easily from the multiproscenium storybook Stahlbaum-home scene to the winter wonderland of the dancing Snowflakes to the candy-coloured kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s second act. But the most appealing aspect for the kids in the audience remains the fact that there are people their own age—uncountable hordes of them—performing on-stage.
The magic of Anna-Marie Holmes’s choreography is that it can accommodate an elementary school’s worth of those kids with such ease and humour. She takes every opportunity she can to use the Goh’s legions of students to her advantage: a diminutive Little Mouse jumps giddily out between the Mouse King’s legs during the battle scene, and one of the tiny gymnasts refuses to run back under Mere Gignogne’s voluminous skirts.
And yet ballet aficionados can also get their fix here and there. Amid the lesser-known stars, a standout is Janica Grenier’s Snow Queen, whose extensions are impossibly elastic, and her partner, Vlademir Pereira, pulls off a dizzying array of jumps. As for the crowd pleasers of the night, top honours go to the low-kicking Russian dancers (Dustin Carnie, Stanislav Galimkhanov, and Yuta Kawakami).
The evening’s big names, Michele Wiles and Cory Stearns of the American Ballet Theatre, are quite simply the real deal. Wiles’s Sugar Plum Fairy imbues everything with emotion, building to a sort of ecstasy in her duet with the Prince (Stearns). Both she and Stearns make the most demanding moves look effortless; watch his athletic jumps and turns, a subtly expressive combination of power and control.
As usual, the Vancouver Opera Orchestra players are on their game, bringing a crispness and sleigh-ride-swift pace to the production. Just listen to the glimmering harp notes and the crescendoing horns, strings, and crashing percussion in the snow scene.
But mostly this show is about fun, as much for the artists involved as for the audience. Yes, the logistical nightmare of wrangling more than 200 performers is serious business—ever tried to get just one kid dressed and out the door?—but the trick of the Goh’s Nutcracker is that it never shows.