The Nutcracker Prince in Maine State Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Photos courtesy of Maine State Ballet

The Maine State Ballet is back on stage in Portland to again brilliantly light up the start of the holiday season with a production of “The Nutcracker.” The ballet’s enchanting mixture of art and entertainment always goes over well and a multi-generational Saturday afternoon crowd at Merrill Auditorium appeared to be all-in on its many wonders.

The familiar story of a young girl named Clara who gets the Christmas gift of a lifetime from a mysterious uncle was well told with a mixture of pantomime, dramatic action, cute comedy and fine dancing that kept most audience members paying rapt attention to each moment of the two-hour-including-intermission performance.

Maine State Ballet performers will alternate major roles throughout the run. But, for the performance under review, Brooke Sowerby embodied Clara with an engaging mixture of youthful wonder and just a hint of the dawn of a romantic interest with her Nutcracker Prince. Sowerby showed a lightness of step that subtly drew attention, though she was at times surrounded by dozens of adult and child performers.

The comic elements provided by various dolls, toy soldiers and tiny reindeer, not to mention those pesky mice, provided much fun throughout.

Arie Eiten, as the Prince, supported Sowerby, both literally through lifts and figuratively through a chivalrous attentiveness as they proceeded from Clara’s home into the magical world to be dazzled as an ensemble of dancers, choreographed by Linda MacArthur Miele, gracefully swirled and artfully drifted amid cascading snowflakes falling from the Merrill rafters.

Then it was onto the Palace of Sweets where more formal ballet mixed easily with dances representing various ethnic contributions.


A scene from Maine State Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”

Adrienne Pelletier was a welcoming Sugar Plum Fairy, surrounding herself with all manner of angels and pages as she created a bit of ballet magic with a sweeping elegance. Spanish Dancers, led by Hailee Willey, added stylized turns, while Morgan Brown Sanborn reached for a sinuous feeling as Coffee from Arabia.

Agnes Norman took advantage of her solo spot as Tea from China to add a spirited bounce to her steps while Russian Cossack Trevor Seymour whirled about much to the delight of the crowd. Marzipan Shepherdess Elizabeth Chadbourne led a tasty ensemble full of color and sweetness while the kids from under the skirt of Sophie Bray’s Mother Ginger tumbled and charmed.

Back to more formal ballet, Emma Davis sparkled as Dew Drop in the Waltz of the Flowers. Hers was a standout performance, employing many advanced techniques with seeming ease. Then Pelletier returned as the Sugar Plum Fairy, this time partnering with Cavalier Glenn Davis, to remind all that the art of ballet can be relied upon to produce many glowing moments.

The orchestra and choir, conducted by Robert Lehmann; costumes and scenery by Gail Csoboth; lighting by David Herrman; and, of course, the music of Tchaikovsky all contributed to bring the audience into a world full of that special holiday feeling.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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