A scene from Portland Ballet’s 2018 performance of “A Victorian Nutcracker.” Mark Peterson of Peterson Photograpics

Snowflakes were falling outside Merrill Auditorium on Tuesday night while inside they were dancing.  The latest production of the Portland Ballet’s “A Victorian Nutcracker” filled the stage with spectacular pageantry energized by lots and lots of student and professional performers.

Starting the holiday classic in a set resembling the interior of the landmark Victoria Mansion in Portland, characters based on local historical figures prepare for Christmas by throwing an elegant party. Period costumes and dance stylings recall a good time for the more prosperous segments of society in the West End. Family dynamics were often amusingly related through lively pantomime.

The unmistakable music of Tchaikovsky, as performed live on opening night by the Portland Ballet Orchestra, helped propel the scores of amateur and professional dancers through all the festive scenes.

Among the holiday gifts exchanged is a nutcracker that fires the imagination of the young daughter, Olivia, sending her off to a dreamworld full of many delights.

Though it’s a busy stage throughout most of the production, Emma Halter, in her first time playing Olivia, captured attention through both formal grace and a youthful enthusiasm that powered her performance.  Her weaving through scenes, as more than just a passive observer, placed her among some impressive co-stars and drew the story along through a series of diverting interludes.

The partnering of Erica Diesl and Russell Hewey, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, and Toni Martin and Daniel Rudenberg, as the Snow Queen and King, featured some of the best moments of pure ballet. Well-executed lifts and turns dazzled, and an enthusiastic crowd applauded often.

Milena Hartog was also a standout as the Dew Drop Fairy, leading the lovely Flowers in an evolving bouquet of movement.

Some new choreography by Nell Shipman, Kaitlyn Hayes and Russell Hewey gave the second act’s various elements more of a collective sense, in keeping with the overall feel of the production as an all-encompassing vision.

Many children, from very small to almost-teens, scurried about the stage as toy soldiers, mice, angels and Polichinelles (under the skirts of Mother Ginger). And to mention only a few of the adult performers by name, Braden Falusi, Camille Alipalo, John Saccone, Grace Koury, Maeve Saunders, Miles Obrey, Jennifer Jones and Derek Clifford brought various magical and exotic roles to life.

Fine costumes and a few unexpectedly imaginative details added to the overall quality of this ambitious effort to bring the ballet classic close to home for the holidays.

“A Victorian Nutcracker” (minus the orchestra) moves to the Westbrook Performing Arts Center for three performances this weekend.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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