Twelve-year-old Ellen Woodside takes ballet classes in Westbrook and, every once in a while, dances with the Moscow Ballet.

Woodside and more than 20 other young Maine ballet students will be dancing with company when they present their “Great Russian Nutcracker” Tuesday at the State Theatre. Woodside and other students also danced with the company in Portland last year, as part of Moscow Ballet’s Dance with Us program, which allows local ballet students to join the cast at each performance.

Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” will be performed Tuesday at the State Theatre in Portland. Photo by Konstantin Viktorov

Last year, Woodside had three roles in the “Nutcracker” when Moscow Ballet came to Maine: a mouse, a party girl and a Russian dancer. This year, she’s looking forward to settling in to her role as a snow maiden.

“It was a little stressful last year, but it felt amazing to be dancing with the company,” Woodside, who lives in Windham, said of performing with Moscow Ballet. “This year we (snow maidens) are mostly walking around and dancing in the snow.”

“The Nutcracker” ballet has been a Christmastime favorite for generations. Seeing the Moscow Ballet perform it seems especially appropriate, since the music was written by Russian Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1892.  The fantasy tale unfolds on Christmas Eve, at a party, and involves dolls given as presents coming to life.

This year marks the 27th year that Moscow Ballet has toured North America. The “Nutcracker” production features several giant puppets, including a 10-foot-tall bull, a 10-foot-tall unicorn, and a 10-foot-tall bear. There are also a pair of 5-foot-tall nesting dolls. One addition to the production this year is a historically-accurate Victorian toy puppet theater in the party scene. There’s also a peacock with a tail that opens to be 8-feet wide.

The Maine ballet students auditioned in the summer at Drouin Dance Center in Westbrook with Olga Pasternak, a native of Ukraine who is a dancer in the company and audition director. Pasternak said having local children in the show makes the performance “more interesting” for both the audience and the professional dancers. Twenty-two Maine dancers, ranging from beginners to dancers in their late teens, were cast. The roles they’ll dance include party children, mice, snowflakes, snow maidens, and Spanish, Russian, Chinese and French dancers.

More than 20 Maine ballet students will perform with the Moscow Ballet Tuesday in Portland. Photo courtesy of Moscow Ballet

Danielle Drouin, the dance center’s owner, said the Moscow Ballet reached out to her, and she was eager to participate in the program. She thinks dancing with the Moscow Ballet provides a unique and inspiring learning experience for young dancers, both in rehearsal and during the performance.

“They really learn a lot by seeing these quality dancers from around the world,” said Drouin. “A lot of the dancers (in Moscow Ballet) don’t speak a lot of English, but dance is the language they all have in common.”



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