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Goh Ballet trailblazer Theepika Sivananthan achieves milestone for Sri Lankans in B.C. with lead role in The Nutcracker

Theepika Sivananthan by Goh Ballet Academy
Theepika Sivananthan, now 11 years old, began taking ballet lessons after her pre-school teacher told her mom that she has a talent for dancing and acting. Photo by Goh Ballet.

Theepika Sivananthan says she was “really shocked” when Goh Ballet cast her as the lead character in its annual performance of The Nutcracker.

In Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet, Clara befriends a nutcracker who turns into a prince—and takes her on a journey through the Land of Snow.

“I didn’t expect it because a brown Clara is not what you see all the time,” Sivananthan tells Pancouver over Zoom. “It’s very rare.”

It marks a first in B.C. and is a reminder of how diversity is taking centre-stage in this year’s production. Being cast as Clara was such a monumental event in the 11-year-old’s life that she started crying upon hearing the news.

“Then my mom was crying—and everybody was crying,” Sivananthan says.

It’s also a milestone for Metro Vancouver’s broader Sri Lankan community.

“It made me very happy to be known in such an important role—and to hear little kids say ‘she’s so pretty, she’s Clara’,” Sivananthan declares.

Sivananthan’s mother, Sangeeta, says in the same Zoom call that she followed her husband to Canada after enduring tough times during the civil war in Sri Lanka.

Sangeeta also mentions that it’s very rare to see ballet classes in Sri Lanka. In fact, she saw this art form for the first time when her daughter started performing in Canada.

“Her pre-school teacher told me that she has the talent of dancing and acting together,” Sangeeta says. “She noticed that, so that’s why I just wanted her to try ballet.”

That was six years ago.

Sivananthan shows acting talent

Chan Hon Goh, a former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, was one of Sivananthan’s earliest role models. Goh, director of Goh Ballet Academy and executive producer of The Nutcracker, says on the same Zoom call that she’s watched Sivananthan blossom as a dancer since then.

“The one thing that made Theepika stand out in the audition is her ability to act and really tell the story,” Goh says. “She’s always been so talented in that regard.”

Over the years, Sivananthan has watched many South Indian films—and perhaps that’s contributed to her theatrical skills. She reveals that her favourite South Indian movie star is the charismatic Vijay, who began his career as a child actor in the mid 1980s.

Sivananthan is also a ballet whiz. In 2019, she won the Global Dance Challenge competition for best solo performance for seven- to nine-year-olds. It was for “Cinderella’s Dream”.

“That’s definitely my favourite, so far,” she says.

Now in Grade 6, Sivananthan attends ballet classes three days a week, including long rehearsals for The Nutcracker on Sundays. They begin at 11 a.m. and can continue into the evening.

“The more I practise, the more confident I get,” she says.

Video: Watch this CTV documentary about how Chan Hon Goh trains young dancers.

Goh speaks about mentorship

In the lead-up to the presentation of The Nutcracker from December 15 to 18, Goh says that she’s helping to polish her protégé’s technique.

“I’m now sharing with her: ‘I know this might be going though your head, but here’s what the audience sees. I would like you to think more about this from the audience perspective and make your thought process a little more delayed or make your steps a little more explicit. Or here is why looking down doesn’t work. Or here is where you need to give it a second for people to really understand.’ It’s really been fun,” Goh says.

For her part, Sivananthan aims to become a role model for younger kids in the same way that her teachers served as role models for her.

“Ever since I started dancing, I’ve always wanted to become a principal dancer, like a prima ballerina that travels around the world and performs for people,” Sivananthan says. “I really want to do that, so I’m going to work my way up to that. And, hopefully, become a doctor, also.”

Goh Ballet will present The Nutcracker at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from December 15 to 18. For more information and tickets, visit the website. Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.