Portland Ballet’s production of “A Victorian Nutcracker” will not be staged this year, but will, for the first time, be broadcast on television. The production includes a pared down cast, but still includes all the iconic music and dance scenes. Courtesy / Mark Peterson

PORTLAND — For the first time in 25 years, Portland Ballet’s “A Victorian Nutcracker” won’t be staged, but rather be broadcast this weekend on the Portland and Bangor NBC affiliates.

Portland Ballet’s “A Victorian Nutcracker” tells the tale of Olivia, a young girl whose gift of a nutcracker comes alive in a dream leading her on a journey through a fight with the Mouse Kings, into the snow and on a trip to the Land of Sweets on Christmas Eve. Milena Hartog, a member of Portland Ballet’s company of professional dancers, said the broadcast, scheduled for 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, on WCSH, will still feature the traditional dance scenes and iconic music from famed composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The choreography, however, will be slightly different because the number of dancers from Portland School of Ballet has been reduced by half.

Staff began to worry over the summer that the ballet company’s traditional Christmas offering may be in jeopardy.

The opening and closing scenes in this year’s “A Victorian Nutcracker” were filmed at the Victoria Mansion on Danforth Street. The ballet tells the story of Olivia (played this year by Tony Marie Martin) and a vivid Christmas Eve dream. Screenshot courtesy / Ernesto Galan

“We were waiting this summer to see what was going to happen because the regulations were changing so rapidly,” Hartog said. “First, it looked like the performance could happen. Then it looked like it couldn’t. ‘The Nutcracker’ for most ballet companies is the biggest production and largest part of the budget as well. We were really trying to think of a solution instead of a large theater show.”

Hartog said in September, even though Portland Ballet was about to embark on small socially distanced performances of “Four Seasons,” it was decided a live in-person performance was not possible for “A Victorian Nutcracker.” The show quickly pivoted from a theatrical performance to a televised one.

Portland School of Ballet Artistic/Executive Director Nell Shipman said for years she has been looking at the possibility to taking their “Nutcracker” production to other parts of Maine to expose new audiences to the ballet. The television broadcast, she said, allows that because it will be seen on WBLZ in Bangor and in other parts of the state where people are not likely to drive to Portland to see the show in person.

“We want to reach as many people as we can,” Shipman said. “This was a great opportunity to do that.”

“It came together pretty easily after that point,” said Hartog, who is part of the performance’s snow scene, battle scene and is the Dew Drop Fairy.

Hartog said this year, Portland Ballet did not hold auditions, but instead cast parts to dancers who took part in a special “Nutcracker” cast. Getting ready for the show, she said, was difficult because practices were kept as socially distant as possible.

In an effort to keep rehearsals as socially distanced as possible, dancers, including those in the battle scene, did not dance together until filming. Courtesy / Julie Rieger

Dancers in the battle scene, where the Nutcracker and his army of tin soldiers fight off the Mouse King and his team of mice, “did not see each other until they got to the theater. They were practicing separately,” Hartog said.

The performance was filmed earlier this fall at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, but for the first time parts of the ballet were filmed off site. The opening and closing scenes were filmed at Victoria Mansion, which serves as the inspiration for the show’s sets. Additionally dancers have routinely taken part in some of the museum’s Christmas at Victoria Museum festivities.

“The space is so enchanting,” Shipman said. “When we were first thinking of broadcasting it, I thought it would be wrong for us not to go to that space and bring its beauty into the broadcast.”

Hartog and Shipman said despite the change in how the show is shared with audiences, the dancers were excited to still be able to take part in “A Victorian Nutcracker.”

“They have responded well to the way things have been changing,” Hartog said. “Everyone was so focused and dedicated.”

While having it air on television is not the same as performing it to a live in-person audience, Shipman said she is grateful technology has allowed the show to go on this year.

“‘The Nutcracker’ is a big part of ballet life. It was going to be really weird not having it this year,” she said.

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