Flowers dance in a Maine State Ballet performance of “the Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Maine State Ballet

Did the first substantial snowfall in Portland this season fall on the stage of Merrill Auditorium on the day after Thanksgiving? Sort of. Though they weren’t quite real, the sparkly flakes falling from the hall’s rafters did contribute a wintry feel to the unreal beauty of the latest production of “The Nutcracker” by the Maine State Ballet.

Celebrating the company’s 100th year in existence, Maine State Ballet is back this year with an abundant, fully staged production of the holiday classic, the first since before the pandemic hit. It was worth the wait to again experience the impressive sights and sounds of scores of dancers, singers and musicians, bringing us again into the magical story of a special Christmas for a little girl named Clara.

From the opening refrains of Tchaikovsky’s exquisite score, the attentive audience – some most likely having seen the ballet many times before, while others, judging from their very young ages, probably experiencing it for the first time – appeared enthralled from start to finish.

The opening party scene introduced us to Agnes Norman as Clara, who will alternate with Emma Davis in the lead role over the run of the show. Norman, an impressively lighter-than-air dancer, gracefully held attention among a crowd of onstage kids, including Caelan Martin as her bratty brother Fritz. Watchful parents, letting their hair down just a little, completed the scene.

The mysteriously beneficent Uncle Drosselmeyer (David Jon Timm) delivered lifelike dolls that began a series of enchantments. A highlight was the introduction of a Nutcracker that becomes a Prince after an unfortunate (for the vermin) scuffle between dozens of toy soldiers and an infestation of pesky but oh-so-cute mice.

Clara was soon off with the Prince (Arie Eiten) on a voyage through The Christmas Tree Forest where the dazzling “Dance of the Snowflakes” provided a bit of classical ballet (choreography by Linda MacArthur Miele with a nod to George Balanchine), with ethereal accompaniment from a live choir, to end the first act.


After some well-executed and gently romantic partnering between Norman and Eiten, Maine State veteran Rhiannon Pelletier renewed her well-established artistry in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Surrounded by large numbers of colorful Angels, Pages and Cherubs, her crisp but graceful turns provided the perfect introduction to the various divertissement.

Charged-up dancers such as a flashy Julia Lopez, a flexible Adrienne Pelletier, a whirling Trevor Seymour and a sprightly Elizabeth Chadbourne were given brief moments at center stage to personalize their characters.
Emma Davis led a blossoming ensemble of dancers in the “Waltz of the Flowers,” suggesting the vibrancy of the warmer months of the year. Rhiannon Pelletier then returned with Cavalier Michael Hamilton for a “Grand Pas de Deux” that focused the attention on the magic within formal ballet.

A spirited orchestra under the baton of Karla M. Kelley Brenner, amazingly varied and colorful costumes by Gail Csoboth, lighting by David Herrman, and the remarkably disciplined and confident performances by all concerned made this return of “The Nutcracker” a plentiful gift for the holidays.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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