Vancouver Goh Ballet

Silver Anniversary Gala: Pas de Deux from 'Swan Lake,' 'Chaconne,' Pas de Deux from 'Don Quixote,' Pas de Deux from 'Rubies,' 'Her Story,' 'Canned Heat,' 'I Want to Fly,' 'Serenade,' 'Three Piece Suite,' and 'Earth/River'

by Leland Windreich

June 12, 2003 -- Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, B.C.

Choo Chiat and Lin Yee Goh had been principal dancers with the National Ballet of China in the period of artistic friendship between China and the Soviet Union. When the Cultural Revolution changed the nature and purpose of ballet for political objectives, the couple decided to immigrate to Canada. Chiat left first in 1976, arriving in Vancouver where his sister Soo Nee Lee had  established herself as a teacher of ballet at the Vancouver Conservatory of Music. For a time he worked as ballet master with the Anna Wyman Dance Theatre, ultimately opening a small studio of his own. By 1978 his wife and nine-year-old daughter had joined him. Support from Vancouver’s Chinese community and local ballet enthusiasts who were awed by his pedagogical skills led him to establish the Goh Ballet Academy on Vancouver’s Main Street, where for the past quarter of a century the school has turned out a remarkable roster of accomplished ballet artists who are dancing in companies all over the world. Over the years he has continued to employ excellent teachers and to import visiting practitioners for intensive courses and workshops. This has included Nikita Dolgushin of St. Petersburg’s Kirov Ballet, Flemming Ryberg and Johnny Eliasen of the Royal Danish Ballet, and Canadian ballerina Lynn Seymour of the Royal Ballet.

Some of the graduates of the Goh Academy returned to Vancouver to perform at the gala, and revered artists from Canada’s professional companies added their presences to a festive evening. Veterans Evelyn Hart of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Rex Harrington of the National Ballet of Canada added stature to the event with a poignant performance of the second act Pas de deux from Swan Lake. Veronica Tennant was an ebullient mistress of ceremonies. Chan Hon Goh, currently principal dancer with the National, paid tribute to her teacher/parents in a sensitive interpretation of the adagio and Pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Chaconne, with Peter Boal of the New York City as her partner. Frances Chung, now dancing with the San Francisco Ballet, offered a saucy performance of Kitri’s variation in the first act of the Petipa Don Quixote. Brianne Bland, now with the Washington Ballet, dazzled audiences with her piquant attack in Balanchine’s Pas de deux from Rubies, partnered by Runqiao Du.

Three former students at the Academy who have chosen alternate dance forms demonstrated the variety of fare offered in their education and how sincerely they were encouraged to explore new territories. Amber Funk, a 1998 graduate, offered her own choreography in Her Story, a solo reflecting her recent involvement as both dancer and creative artist working with various Vancouver modern dance groups. Kevin Yee went from ballet to the popular theatre where he has been enjoying an active career across Canada as both singer and dancer. His explosive solo called Canned Heat was a showcase for his current accomplishments. Xing Liang, who was a principal dancer with the Goh Youth Division, returned to China where he joined the Guangdong Modern Dance Company. For the gala he chose a compelling solo dance called I Want to Fly, which made it clear why he is receiving accolades and awards for his choreography in China, Europe and the United States.

But the dazzling star of the Gala was the Youth Ensemble, who offered a technically perfect rendition of Balanchine’s Serenade in a staging by Elyse Borne. It was difficult to believe that the student dancers, whose ages ranged from 13 to 18, were not a professional troupe, conveying as they did the subtlety and nuances of Balanchine’s profound and immortal statement. In the closing portion of the program they tackled the fiendishly difficult footwork of Johnny Eliasen’s staging of the Bournonville Conservatory, conveying as well its gentle, whimsical charms and warm community spirit. Two contemporary works for the ensemble—Bill Robertson’s Three Piece Suite (a Fosse-style composition) and Earth/River, a quasi-Chinese duo of works by Chiat Goh and his teaching colleague Jian Rong Sheng, showed the capabilities of this bright group of young dancers to handle a variety of dance styles with confidence and to survive a long evening of strenuous challenges.

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