By Laura Goldstein
Perhaps her breathless exuberance is partially a consequence of a grande jeté (that’s ballet parlance for ‘big leap’) into a Toronto cab, but Vancouver’s Chan Hon Goh, director of the Goh Ballet Academy is always a force of nature. She’s about halfway through her annual, albeit frenetic, outreach programme giving masterclasses to ballet students across Canada and Seattle. “I keep adding more and more cities,” laughs the vivacious former prima ballerina of The National Ballet of Canada by phone. “I was just in Whitehorse in a very small community. We had a fantastic opportunity to see what the dance scene was like up there. I’m so excited because our charitable entity, the Chan Hon Goh Ballet Vancouver Society offers a national, $5,000 scholarship to gifted young students we assess as they take the masterclass in each city,” she explains. “There’s often a huge financial strain on the families of ballet students – shoes, lessons, boarding etc. The scholarship is based on artistic talent and physical ability for the future with the goal of becoming a professional dancer.”
Both Goh’s parents were celebrated principal dancers with The Beijing International Ballet in the 60s but when Western classical ballet was forbidden during the Cultural Revolution, they immigrated with Chan in 1976 for a better life in Vancouver. They started a ballet school in her aunt’s basement in 1978 that evolved into the Goh Ballet Academy, currently located inside a refurbished bank at Broadway and Main. The original vault makes for excellent costume storage!
Chan Hon Goh joined the National Ballet of Canada in 1988 climbing the ranks behind Veronica Tennant and Karen Kain to become principal dancer in 1994. Performing internationally, she received critical raves for her emotional depth and elegant interpretations of title roles in Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, The Firebird, Madame Butterfly and La Sylphide.
When her parents retired in 2010, Chan Hon accepted the directorship of Goh Ballet Academy, collaborating with her husband, choreographer and former principal dancer, Chun Che. An astute entrepreneur and businesswoman, the couple established the brand, Principal two decades ago, designing pointe shoes, ballet slippers and dance boots. (Shoes are also donated to dancers in need in Canada and to the National Ballet of Cuba.)
Their annual production of The Nutcracker, underwritten by the Goh Ballet Vancouver Society is a much-anticipated holiday highlight, with a cast of 200 dancers from the Lower Mainland, one of whom is Goh’s 12-year-old son, Aveary. For their 40th Anniversary Gala, Goh Ballet is presenting a world premiere of Cinderella, June 1st and 2nd at The Centre Theatre for Performing Arts.
Their next iteration is moving into state-of-the-art premises as part of the Oakridge Centre redevelopment in six years. “25,000 square feet of rehearsal and production space – that’s a dream come true for our students and dancers,” enthuses Goh.