Maine State Ballet’s production of the holiday classic “The Nutcracker” opened Saturday at Merrill Auditorium. This show goes all out, with luscious costuming, fine dancing and polished performances from the huge cast of professionals, pre-professionals and children.

The show’s delicious palette of color and spectacle makes it a delight for children who attend. The Christmas tree, richly dressed in lights and baubles, grows dramatically. Giant mice fight humorously, against tiny but valiant toy soldiers. Little children emerge from the impossibly large skirts of Mother Ginger (Christine Marshall Dow).

“The Nutcracker” — in this and other versions — enjoys its vast popularity because all this excitement is married to beautiful classical dancing to the evocative, made-to-order score by Tchaikovsky.

One of the loveliest parts of MSB’s production has always been the “Christmas Tree Forest” of waltzing Snowflakes, with the legendary choreography of George Balanchine. Swirling, building snow is evoked by constantly changing formations, entrances and exits of 16 dancers.

This year, new costumes by Gail Csoboth have added even more wonder to the snow scene. The long tutus are very snowy, with billowing, floating layers of tulle and individual sewn-on snowflakes, creating a breathtaking effect along with the perfectly-timed fall of stage snow and soft, cool lighting.

On Saturday evening, this scene was also one of the best musically. The Maine State Ballet Orchestra performed beautifully here, with good tempo, and singers from Musica de Filia Girlchoir gave perfect dimension to the moving choral sequences.

A highlight of the first act’s party scene was Emma Davis as the Porcelain Doll, brought to the party by mysterious Uncle Drosselmeyer (James Herrera). All ringlets and ruffles in her pink dress, Davis was adorable, capturing both the sweetness and the mechanical quality of the dance.

Michael Holden danced the role of Nutcracker Prince, in a departure from previous years when this role was combined with that of Cavalier in the second act.

It was nice to see Clara (Elise Bickford), who receives the Nutcracker from Drosselmeyer and then sees him transformed into a man, keep her own partner throughout the ballet. Holden performed the role with lithe strength, and he and Bickford were a good match aesthetically.

Act II’s “Palace of Sweets” features a series of confectionary divertissements, the Waltz of the Flowers and the pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier (Janet and Glenn Davis).

Elizabeth Dragoni was a standout among the soloists, performing in Coffee from Arabia with Nathaniel Dombek and a small corps de ballet. Dragoni showed exquisite dignity and a pleasingly exotic quality and executed interesting lifts and bends with Dombek, who partnered her well.

Marissa Patten-Harris danced the solo role in Marzipan Shepherdesses with expressive grace. Maiki Saito soared as the Russian Cossack, with feats including an expansive circle of leap turns.

Katie Farwell lent her strength, musicality and delicate touch to the role of Dew Drop, appearing in sparkling solos throughout Waltz of the Flowers. The Flowers were led by demi-soloists Kate Bennett and Christina Williams, whose physical and artistic similarity made for a pretty pairing.

The Davises performed the pas de deux with their usual professional polish. Glenn Davis is a superb partner; his near-invisible support allowed Janet Davis to fly, dip and turn with brilliance and apparent ease.

Janet Davis’ rendition of the famous Sugar Plum Fairy solo was lovely and strong, with a nice musical partnership with Beth Barefoot on the celeste.

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s performances; because Merrill lacks an orchestra pit, the ballet is best viewed from the grand tier or balcony, in order to see the entire stage past the orchestra.

Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.