3 min

Local drag queen reprises role in Goh Ballet’s Nutcracker

The annual ballet features an array of internationally renowned dancers

Credit: David Cooper Photography

Men in tights, sparkling gowns and dancing fairies — is there anything gayer than the ballet?

The Goh Ballet, a cornerstone of the Vancouver art scene for 38 years, agrees and promises to deliver their most fabulous production of The Nutcracker yet.

Vancouver gender illusionist Symone returns this year to reprise her role as Mother Ginger in the holiday classic. Symone is joined by a cast of over 200 which also features a magician, gymnasts, ballroom dancers and a live orchestra.

Mother Ginger kicks off the second act with Symone drawing from two-decades of drag experience to heat up the crowd. “As soon as I get on stage I get the audience to start applauding, clapping and to be a part of the actual number,” Symone says. “So I’m actually doing a drag number without even lip-synching.”

Symone had an unconventional start with the production. While performing a routine dinner show, she was approached by the Goh Ballet’s wardrobe mistress about the gig. Initially hesitant, Symone was convinced as soon as she saw her costume. “I get to the theatre and the costume is 12 feet in diameter by 12 feet tall,” Symone says. “A big smile hits my face.”

Symone protrudes from the top of the costume, which is wheeled across the set by stagehands hidden under the skirt. Soon after, a dozen of Mother Ginger’s children pop out from underneath. These are the young champion gymnasts who proceed to impress with their floor routine. Symone says the process can be complex. “The stagehands don’t have any light, so they’re navigating in darkness and watching my foot. I tap when we need to stop, I point in the direction we need to be moving in, and then you have 10–12 little ones underneath it that you’re trying not to get caught by the wheels. It’s quite the elaborate performance.”

Symone’s talents extend beyond the stage. Appropriately, she also assists with the cast’s makeup and wigs. “I wear the largest wig in the show, and I wear the most amount of makeup in the show,” she says.

The mastermind behind the world-class production is Chan Hon Goh, director of Goh Ballet and former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada. “It really is like pieces of an intricate puzzle,” Goh says. “You don’t get to complete it or see it in its entirety until pretty much opening night, when all the pieces are put in place.”

(Chan Hon Goh, executive producer of The Goh Ballet’s The Nutcracker)

After an illustrious career, Goh retired from dance and moved back to Vancouver in 2009. She has since worked tirelessly to produce a ballet for her hometown. It’s a long journey to opening night, with open auditions for the December show beginning last May. “It’s not so farfetched to say that The Nutcracker is almost all year-round for us. As soon as we finish a production we start planning the next,” Goh says.

A night at The Nutcracker is the quintessential December night out. While Goh loves seeing the smiling faces of children in the audience, she notes the show has something for everyone. “I’ve heard time and time again that there aren’t many things that three generations of the family can all do together, and everyone is going to have a good time, but they come to The Nutcracker and it’s an incredible experience they can share.”

This year’s production features international stars from the San Francisco Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet. Frances Chung, Goh Ballet alumnus and prima ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet will make her homecoming debut as the iconic sugar plum fairy. Goh, who attributes the launch of her own career to role of the sugar plum fairy, is especially excited for Chung’s return to Vancouver. “She hasn’t been back to perform for the past 14 years so this is a huge homecoming and a wonderful way to share her talents, and something that is very meaningful for our younger dancers that are now rising up through the academy.”