Rhiannon Pelletier and Michael Hamilton dance the pas de deux in Maine State Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” which runs through Dec. 8. Courtesy Maine State Ballet

The decorations that are popping up all over – plus the early start of the 2019-20 snow season – are certainly ringing in the Christmas season. So, too, in the performing arts.

Maine State Ballet opened its annual production of “The Nutcracker” on Thanksgiving weekend. As always, it’s a spectacular show, with scores of dancers and a live orchestra.

The Portland Community Chorus has slated its annual “Yuletide Celebration” this weekend, with performances on Friday and Saturday in South Portland.

ChoralArt has moved its annual Christmas concerts this year but promises to retain its time-tested format. Four performances are slated, Saturday and Sunday in Portland.

‘The Nutcracker’

Black Friday? No way. Instead I had two great choices for the day after Thanksgiving: Motor up to Sunday River for skiing or head to Merrill Auditorium for “The Nutcracker.”

This past Friday was too way too windy for skiing, so I took in Maine State Ballet’s 43rd annual production of the Christmas-themed terpsichorean classic with a lushly melodic score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

I’ve seen it about 20 times in the past three decades and, as always, I was thoroughly delighted. Set in an aristocratic German household in the late 19th century, the story begins with a Christmas party. Then halfway through the first act, it segues into a teenage girl’s dream. All sorts of fantastic things and characters pop up in her dream – and they’re all fabulous ballet dancers.

Maine State Ballet spares no effort to make this a visual and aural spectacular, something suitable to follow Thanksgiving’s gustatory spectacular. The total cast numbers about 300; due to the company’s practice of rotating performers and roles, about 150 appear on stage during each performance.

In the performance that I saw on Friday afternoon, the top roles were filled by Emma Davis as Clara, the girl who dreams. Rhiannon Pelletier danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, who escorts Clara through a Palace of Sweets, and Michael Hamilton partnered with Pelletier as her Cavalier. The latter pair dance the famous pas de deux in the penultimate scene.

Other notable performances were given by Roberto Forleo as an athletic Russian Cossack and Kallee Gallant as the lovely Dew Drop.

Scenery and costume designs by Gail Csoboth were topnotch, while Karla Kelley Brenner flawlessly conducted an orchestra of 44.

Maine State Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall through Dec. 8 with performances scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call PortTIX at 842-0800.

Portland Community Chorus

Another of my annual Christmas concerts is scheduled for this weekend. The Portland Community Chorus, numbering about 80 singers, presents its “Yuletide Celebration” on Friday and Saturday in South Portland.

Music director Rob Westerberg’s program spans a vast spectrum of historical periods and musical styles, beginning in the Middle Ages and running up to 21st-century composers. The former is represented by the “Coventry Carol,” which traces its origin to 13th-century Christmas pageants in England, while the latter is represented by Charlotte Bickford’s “Born in a Lowly Stable” and Caleb Lynch’s “Still, Still, Still.” Both the latter two are members of the chorus.

The Portland Community Chorus presents “A Yuletide Celebration” for two performances at South Portland High School, 637 Highland Ave.: Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. Call 370-5320.


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, and one of the big commemorative events is scheduled for this Sunday.

Unfortunately for music lovers, this has forced ChoralArt to relocate its annual “Christmas at the Cathedral” concerts. But it’s only displaced this one year, according to music director Robert Russell.

Temporarily renamed “A ChoralArt Christmas,” four performances are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Woodford’s Congregational Church in Portland.

ChoralArt’s time-tested format remains unchanged. About 50 singers will be joined by the Portland Brass Quintet and an organist to perform a selection of music that dates from the Middle Ages to the present. Two pieces are performed every year. “Personent hodie voces puerulae” is a Latin hymn dating from the late 1500s. Arranged for ChoralArt by Russell, it’s the ensemble’s signature work. The second, another ChoralArt signature, is an aural and visual version of Surround Sound: “Silent Night” is performed with the singers, holding candles, lined up on both sides of the church.

Catch “A ChoralArt Christmas” at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Four performances are slated: Dec. 7 at noon and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Call 828-0043.

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