“The Nutcracker” signals the start of the Christmas holiday season all over the world. Here in Portland, it arrived on Saturday with the Maine State Ballet’s dazzling production performed with live orchestra and a cast of dancers that filled the Merrill Auditorium stage.

The ballet begins at the Stahlbaum family Christmas Eve party. After bedtime, young Clara sneaks back into the living room to retrieve her nutcracker doll and is transported to a dreamlike world. Toy soldiers come to life to battle giant adorable mice, and her nutcracker turns into a real live prince. Adrienne Pelletier as Clara and Nicholas Anderson as the prince take a journey into this endearing, classic tale.

“The Nutcracker,” first performed in Russia in 1892, exudes pageantry. The abundance of roles gives students from the dance school a chance to perform. The youngest dancers marched in formation as toy soldiers and later lined up as Santa’s reindeer, while the older children did a great job as ensemble dance members.

The culmination of the first act, in the Christmas Tree Forest filled with dancing snowflakes, was the most enchanting scene. Snow fell as the dancers moved in intricate patterns that seemed to blow and glide in the winter wind. A live chorus from the Musica de Filia girls’ and women’s choirs added much to the scene. Maine State Ballet Artistic Director Linda MacArthur Miele added breathtaking staging.

Act Two featured many small vignettes at The Palace of Sweets. Maiki Saito wowed with huge leaps as the powerful Russian Cossack. Shannon Dunbar and Boomer Druchniak oozed with exotic and sultry partnering as Arabian dancers. The Sugar Plum Fairy, danced by Elizabeth Dragoni, was light as a feather, with quick pirouettes and footwork on point. The final grand pas de deux, danced by Elizabeth Dragoni and Glenn Davis, culminated with the evening’s most challenging sequences, performed with grace, precision and elegance.

The production is a visual treat with colorful costumes and scenery by Gail Csoboth. The masterful musical score by Tchaikovsky was conducted by Karla M. Kelly Brenner and performed by the Maine State Ballet Orchestra.

Jessica Lockhart is a freelance writer who blogs about dance at talkingaboutdance.blogspot.com. She can be contacted at:

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