2020: it’s a year that’s been full of challenges, surprises, and new opportunities. From changes to how we work and celebrate, the global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all in ways we could have never predicted. But despite the stresses and challenges, COVID has also created new opportunities.
“This situation has pushed us to reinvent the ordinary. ” says Chan Hon Goh, Director of the Goh Ballet Academy and Youth Company Canada, Artistic Director of the Global Dance Challenge, and former Principal Dancer of The National Ballet of Canada.
Like many other industries and businesses, ballet and the performing arts have been forced to adapt to a world of social distancing and virtual events as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to do something virtually because of the circumstances. Any other year there would be no way we could film this given our time restraints and resources. It just wouldn’t have worked.”
In non-COVID years, Goh Ballet would hold auditions for The Nutcracker—an annual holiday classic—in May. This year, May saw much of the world in a lockdown facing unknown circumstances and new challenges, along with new opportunities.
“We were waiting and hoping for good news in the spring and were optimistic but cautious. Ultimately, we made the decisions not to hold live shows this year.”
But despite the decision to suspend live performances, the determination to create a show persisted.
“The desire to perform doesn’t go away” notes Goh, “The situation right now is only temporary.”
In September, Goh and her artistic team and cast began rehearsing, adhering to a tight schedule and COVID-19 restrictions, including social distancing, and reducing a usual cast of over 250 to just 60 individuals.
“The Nutcracker is an annual favourite but there’s countless versions of it out there and they’re well done. We wanted to do something more compelling and closer to home” says Goh.
The original, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" is a story written in 1816 by Prussian author E. T. A. Hoffmann, and in 1892, the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned Alexandre Dumas's adaptation of the story into the ballet The Nutcracker.
This Ballet has become a winter holiday classic performed by dancers around the world for decades, and adapted as a live action film on numerous occasions, most recently in 2018.
“Our version takes place in the present, but also jumps to the nostalgia of the past, and provide hopes to the future” Goh says. “When you’re filming something, you’re under a magnifying glass.. Our cast has been so dedicated, and they’ve worked really hard to prepare.”
Goh herself has been working tirelessly alongside her cast, not only as the film’s Executive Producer but she will be making a small cameo performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“Ballet is a meticulous and difficult art form. Going back to performing now I have become more compassionate. I can see when it’s time to pause and take a moment. I have a better appreciation for what these dancers are going through.”
The daughter of two dancers herself, Goh’s career is one decorated with countless awards and accolades including an honorary degree from UBC, the Order of Canada, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and an assortment of ballet and dance competition wins and awards.
“I think my parents first put me in dance as a way to keep an eye on me” jokes Goh. “But I remember being about 11 and having been dancing for a few years and noticing that I wasn’t getting as much attention as some other kids in the class. So, I found the courage to say, ‘Correct me. Show me what I’m doing wrong.’ And that’s when I knew I wanted to do this.”
By the age of 15, Goh was competing internationally.
“I went to a competition and I was the only Canadian there—some people didn’t even know where Vancouver was. People didn’t expect me to win or place in the competition, so it was very validating and that became the reaffirmation I needed to make ballet and performing my career. I think all dancers can look back and see those moments in their careers. Those experiences translate into who you are.”
Filming this year’s performance, Goh says she’s eager to not only give audiences an insight into the world of ballet and the performing arts, but to show audiences passion, desire, and joy.
“We’re appealing to emotions in this story that are so genuine. It’s a journey anyone can go on with us and relate to in some way. I want people to walk away from this film ready to find their own opportunities, to chase their dreams and explore more things. This really is an awakening of how things can change and what we can do with that.”
Visit: www.gohnutcracker.com/beyondthestage to receive exclusive access to the limited time film release of Goh Ballet’s The Nutcracker: Beyond The Stage, availalable from December 18, 2020 until January 2, 2021.
~ Whitney Sharp