By JENNIFER BREWER
There are plenty of reasons not to miss Maine State Ballet's "The Nutcracker," which has more than earned its place as an integral part of the holiday season in Portland.
The production is visually luscious and highly entertaining, as well as artistically accomplished and accessible in equal measures -- no mean feat.
The cast of hundreds is always brilliantly prepared, so that performances have a professional polish that belies the company's abundance of young, pre-professional dancers (and dozens of children).
On Saturday evening, this year's cast seemed to be particularly strong. The oft-seen principals and soloists, including Janet and Glenn Davis, Katie Farwell and Christina Williams, were in excellent form.
Most striking were two young rising stars, sisters Rhiannon and Adrienne Pelletier. As Clara, the girl who receives the enchanted Nutcracker and travels to the Palace of Sweets, Adrienne Pelletier danced with charm and strength. Her arms were lovely and floating, and her feet truly elegant.
Rhiannon Pelletier was a revelation as Dew Drop in Waltz of the Flowers. This role is one of the parts of the ballet for which Maine State Ballet uses the choreography of George Balanchine (thanks to artistic director Linda MacArthur Miele's long-term association with New York City Ballet).
The Dew Drop choreography epitomizes Balanchine's talent for marrying music and movement, which Miele shares, and is shown at its best by a dancer who is deeply, "organically," musical.
Pelletier is this dancer. On a technical level, she impressed with suspended jumps and sustained balances. Her performance was breathtaking, however, because of her artistic absorption.
(Both Pelletiers are sharing their roles; Sharon Dunbar will perform Clara at half the performances and Rhiannon Pelletier is one of five dancers scheduled to dance Dew Drop.)
The party scene was lively and flowing, from the misty, mysterious introduction of magic-making Drosselmeyer (performed very well by James Herrera) during the overture, through the children's and adults' dancing, anchored by the gracious elegance of Clara's parents (Juliette Lauzier and Ron Trell), to the magical midnight transformations that bring the Nutcracker to life to lead toy soldiers battling giant mice.
Emma Davis was delightful as the tiny dancing Porcelain Doll, one of the treats Drosselmeyer provides. The Children danced with precision and occupied the scene comfortably during their non-dancing sequences. Spectacular costumes and lighting by Gail Csoboth and David Herrman worked together to make the entire scene delicious.
Janet and Glenn Davis performed the second-act pas de deux beautifully. Both excelled in their solos, he with a fabulous circle of leap turns and she with a quicksilver turn sequence including double fouettes.
Trell was hilarious as Mother Ginger, Farwell elegant in Coffee from Arabia.
Williams did very well as soloist in Marzipan Shepherdesses. This is a difficult part to perform with grace, which Williams accomplished, despite what seemed a slightly racing tempo.
Throughout the rest of the ballet, the orchestra was perhaps the most in tune with the dancing that it's ever been, and played beautifully overall. Most tempos were sensitive, and conductor Karla M. Kelley could be seen at times to be that irreplaceable third partner in the pas de deux, watching the dancers closely and responding to their needs.
Between the first act's battle and the second act's confections, the snow scene stands as an exquisite centerpiece to Maine State Ballet's "Nutcracker." Here, too, the production uses Balanchine's choreography, the quality of which can't be overstated.
With dreamy lighting, scenery and costumes, Miele's precise staging and the voices of Musica de Filia girls' choir complementing the orchestra, along with the splendid dancing, it's difficult to imagine anyone -- ballet fan, novice or even skeptic -- remaining unmoved by Waltz of the Snowflakes.
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.
This story was updated at 6:36 p.m. Nov. 25 to correct the spelling of Shannon Dunbar's name.Tweet