PORTLAND — For Sunday’s matinee performance of Maine State Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” Merrill Auditorium was filled by an appreciative audience with a large number of children and adults of all ages.

One grandmother in the audience commented at intermission about the show’s dollar value and the strikingly well-behaved children. In fact, they were mesmerized, as were the adults.

This “Nutcracker” truly casts a spell, and Sunday’s performance seemed especially polished, with outstanding music, dancing and production qualities, from choreography and staging to costumes and lighting.

In the first-act party scene, the acting was as notable as the dancing, especially among the principals: Elizabeth Dragoni as Clara, Juliette Lauzier and Ron Trell as the Stahlbaums, and James Herrera, who is new to the role of Uncle Drosselmeyer but got the character’s Dickensian personality and movement quality just right.

The quality of the performance was in the little details. Lauzier and Trell were a subtle riot when scolding naughty Fritz (Nicholas Anderson) while comforting and praising his angelic older sister (Dragoni). Dragoni and Herrera gave a nice foreshadowing of the next scene when she suggested that the Nutcracker should be man-sized and he laughed.

Elevating this performance was an easy marriage between music and movement. The Maine State Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Karla M. Kelley, was in fine form, especially responsive to the tempos and nuances of the dancing.

Most exquisite in this marriage was the perfect timing of a breath of silence just as Drosselmeyer handed Clara the Nutcracker, after a dramatic musical build-up.

Also in the first act, Alyssa Bryan was a charming Porcelain Doll, blending delicacy and delightfully mechanical jerkiness. As the Tin Soldier Doll, Michael Holden previewed the dramatic leaps and turns he’d later perform as the Russian Cossack.

The transformation, in which the tree grows and child-size toy soldiers and giant mice take the place of cozy parlor furnishings, was captivating, and the battle of the mice and soldiers elicited laughter in all the right places.

As the Nutcracker Prince, Glenn Davis awoke to his new human form with touching spirituality, and partnered Dragoni with his usual expertise. Dragoni was lively and full of personality throughout and danced beautifully with Davis.

“The Christmas Tree Forest,” which closes the first act, was wonderfully dreamlike, featuring the ineffable Balanchine choreography for the dancing Snowflakes. Blue-tinged lighting, the sparkle of the Snowflake costumes and a steady, gentle snowfall combined for painterly visuals, and the Musica de Filia Girlchoir (Jaye Churchill, director) lent the appropriate barely-there depth to the orchestra.

In the second act, Rhiannon Pelletier was suitably flirtatious and musically sensitive with Nathaniel Dombek in “Chocolate from Spain.” Katie Farwell had exotic dignity in “Coffee from Arabia,” partnered by Frederick Bernier. Maiki Saito showed good lift and precision in the over-in-a-flash “Tea from China.”

As the Russian Cossack, Holden brought down the house. He flew onto the stage, his blond hair floating sweetly above his sky-high leaps. His leap-turn circle was spectacular, and his climactic pirouette must have included at least eight turns.

In “Waltz of the Flowers,” Janet Davis was a beautiful Dew Drop Fairy, with a crystalline quality that was ideal for this role. Kate Hamilton’s performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy was best during the pas de deux; with her long limbs and neck, she is a lovely adagio dancer.

“Nutcracker” continues this weekend, with the Wescustago Youth Chorale joining the Maine State Ballet Orchestra.


Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer, teacher, musician and dancer who lives in Saco.