Portland Ballet’s cozy “Victorian Nutcracker” filled Merrill Auditorium with holiday cheer on Thursday, a mere day before the bustle and anticipation of Christmas Eve.

This version of the classic ballet is story-rich.

It opens with a charming puppet show, which simply but effectively portrays the story of the Nutcracker’s battle with the Mouse King.

There are other moments when future events are foreshadowed, or past events are echoed, helping to draw scenes and actions together dramatically.

For example, the bandage with which the Godfather (Drosselmeyer in the classic story) fixes Olivia’s (Clara in most versions) Nutcracker is repeated in a white scarf on the man-size Nutcracker and then on the Snow Prince he becomes.

The first-act party scene includes a subtle but significant (and pleasing) divergence from the story’s usual gender stereotyping.

Instead of intentionally breaking the Nutcracker, Olivia’s brother only attempts to grab it and it falls.

The party boys are naughty as in all versions, but here the girls get a chance or two to break out of their angelic stereotype.

At the matinee, there were many excellent performances from both Portland Ballet’s own dancers and guest artists John Saccone (Godfather), Joseph Jefferies (Nutcracker and Snow Prince) and J Ryan Carroll (Cavalier).

Megan Buckley, who joined Portland Ballet last year, was one of the finest Sugar Plum Fairies this stage has ever seen.

She performed with complete mastery of both the technical demands of the role and the musical subtleties that raise a performance from lovely to sublime.

She also showed balance between the lyrical pas de deux and the delicate solo, performing both with equal expertise and musicality.

Carroll was a very considerate and able partner, despite a disparity in their heights that would typically make them a mismatch.

With few exceptions, their dancing together belied the fact that, considering Carroll was a guest artist, they must have had few rehearsals together.

In the Sugar Plum solo, Buckley interpreted even the famous coup de pied beats with a fluency that made them both super-precise and almost liquid, like a combination of spun sugar and pulled taffy.

As Olivia, Eleanor Altholz was delightful, with a merry face and beautiful dancing throughout the first act’s party scene and battle and, most notably, during Waltz of the Flowers in the second act.

Here, Altholz took the central soloist’s role (most typically the Dew Drop Fairy and in this version in past years the Sweetheart Rose).

Her performance evoked a little girl’s ballerina dreams as she danced in a field of flowers, with her crystalline blue dress floating amid the pink tutus, and she moved with lovely technique and interpretation.

As Snow Princess, Katrina Smedal had regal bearing, with beautifully carried long legs and arms and lovely hands.

As Snow Prince, Jefferies executed gorgeous leap turns and spinning multiple pirouettes.

Andrea Lucas brought beautiful line and presence to her roles as the soloist in Spanish Chocolate and as a Rosebud in Waltz of the Flowers, which was, remarkably, a last-minute substitution.

Deborah Zelie’s solo in Chinese Tea included quicksilver split leaps and neat beats and turns, and her Tin Soldier rendition in the party scene was elastic and precise.

In Arabian Coffee, Morgan Sanborn combined rock-solid balances on pointe with an articulate and sinuous upper body.

In some cities, “Nutcracker” performances continue after Christmas. Would that this were so with “Victorian Nutcracker,” so that more Portlanders would get the chance to enjoy the elegance of this production.

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