For several years, two professional dance companies in Greater Portland have offered their own performances of “The Nutcracker,” the timeless holiday ballet with an instantly recognizable classical music score that offers something for audiences of all ages.

But it’s hardly been a rivalry between Portland Ballet and Falmouth-based Maine State Ballet.

Dancers with Portland Ballet perform in the company’s 2021 production of “A Victorian Nutcracker.” Photo by Jennifer Jones, Portland Ballet

“I think the more the merrier,” said Glenn Davis, assistant director at Maine State Ballet. “It’s almost like Burger King and McDonald’s. They both can exist together and do well. I think in the past, some people have made it out to be a rivalry, but it’s really not.”

Erica Diesl, a longtime dancer with Portland Ballet, agreed that it’s a win-win for the local arts scene.

“I think it’s been such a positive for this area. The fact that there are two means that every weekend of the season, there is a ‘Nutcracker’ playing. That’s a ton of opportunities to see ballet.”

She paused for a moment before adding, “Of course, we would love for people to see ours.”


Dancers with Maine State Ballet perform in the 2021 production of “The Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Maine State Ballet

Maine State Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” features six performances this year, all at Merrill Auditorium. Portland Ballet’s “A Victorian Nutcracker” – which has a slightly more local feel with characters pulled from the city’s past and backdrops and set pieces inspired by Portland’s Victoria Mansion – also will be shown six times at locations in three different communities.

“The Nutcracker,” set to Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s orchestral score, tells the story of a young girl, Clara, who receives a nutcracker doll at a holiday gathering and embarks on a magical adventure. It has become an indelible tradition each holiday season, in Portland and beyond, but even though the two local ballet companies produce the show every year, there are some variations that keep it fresh, both for dancers and audiences. Here’s a closer look.

Emma Davis as Clara and Trevor Seymour as the prince in Maine State Ballet’s 2021 performance of “The Nutcracker.” This year’s production opens Nov. 25 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. Photo courtesy of Maine State Ballet


Maine State Ballet’s 2022 production features nearly 300 cast members, from 3-year-old beginner dancers playing reindeer to adult professionals who play leads and showcase their talents on during solos.

It will be the first time since 2019 that the company’s production will be at full staff and performed with an orchestra and full audience.

It’s also another family affair for the Davises. Glenn and his wife, Janet Davis, will portray Judge and Mrs. Stahlbalm, who are the parents of Clara, the story’s heroine. Clara will be played by two dancers, Agnes Norman, and Emma Davis, the latter of whom is the daughter of Glenn and Janet.


Finally, the choreography was done by artistic director and former New York City Ballet member Linda MacArthur Miele, who is Janet Davis’ mother. Miele danced with the influential choreographer George Balanchine in New York and is involved with his trust, which affords her permission to three of his original pieces of choreography in this year’s “Nutcracker.”

Emma, 20, first appeared in “The Nutcracker” at age 3 and has often danced alongside her parents, who have had various roles in past productions. She’s now a principal dancer.

“When I was a teenager, it was definitely an adjustment, because we’d all be in class together and then your parents are there,” she said. “Now that I’m older, they have taken on new roles, so it’s been an easier time.”

The is her fifth year playing Clara.

“What I love about playing Clara is that you get to interact with every role, from the little reindeer to the Sugar Plum Fairy,” she said.

This year’s Sugar Plum Fairy, Rhiannon Pelletier, returns to the role after having her first child.


It’s a return of sort, too, for Glenn Davis. After performing as the Cavalier last year, a role he played often, Davis had open heart surgery in February. He said he feels fortunate to be able to get back on stage.

“I’m kind of over the hill as a dancer,” he said. “I’m kind of like that horse who you out to pasture. But I can still do some partnering.”

“The Nutcracker” by Maine State Ballet will be performed at 2 p.m. Nov. 25-27 and Dec. 3 and 4, with an additional 7 p.m. show on Dec. 3. All performances are at Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland. Tickets range from $28-$80. For more information, go to

Dancer Toni Marie Martin as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Portland Ballet’s 2021 performance of “A Victorian Nutcracker.” This year’s production open Dec. 10 in Sanford. Photo by Erica Diesl, Portland Ballet


For many years, Portland Ballet kept a relatively small number of dancers in its professional company – about a dozen.

This year, there are 20, with some coming from as far away as Nevada.


“It was definitely a conscious decision, but also we had a lot of interest when we ran auditions in the spring,” said Diesl, who has been in the company for 11 seasons. “So many companies didn’t have capacity to hire, and so many young dancers were still looking for jobs.”

She said “The Nutcracker” is a great ballet for dancers because there are so many varied roles, and each of them is double cast, which provides additional opportunities. In addition to the company, 60 students from the Portland School of Ballet will join the cast.

“Even though we do this every year, it’s not always the same. Parts change and there are subtle changes in choreography,” Diesl said. “Most professional dancers fall into the category of loving this production or not. Personally, I love it.”

Portland Ballet’s production, titled “A Victorian Nutcracker,” tells the same classic story but uses local landmarks and history. The backdrops and set pieces are inspired by Portland’s Victoria Mansion, and some of the characters are pulled directly from the city’s past. The choreography is by artistic director Nell Shipman, Jennifer Jones and other artistic staff.

“It’s a nice balance,” said Shipman. “The tradition of it is fantastic and that becomes a grounding point for people to come back. But also as a choreographer, when I see the show performed, I can see tweaks and changes and I have the opportunity to do that here.”

“The Nutcracker” is an accessible ballet, one that appeals to first-time patrons and veterans of the dance form.

“Everybody knows some version of ‘The Nutcracker,’ ” Shipman said. “But when people see it for the first time, they realize there is something more to ballet. When you see it live, and people are breathing and emoting and communicating without words, it reaches you in a deeper place.”

“The Nutcracker” is one of five shows in Portland Ballet’s 2022-23 season, including the final show in late April, “Sylvia,” which is the premiere of new work by Shipman.

“A Victorian Nutcracker” will be performed at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Sanford Performing Arts Center, 100 Alumni Blvd., Sanford; at 2 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18 at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, 471 Stroudwater St., Westbrook; and at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23 at Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland. Tickets range from $27-$63. For ticket information, go to

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: