BWW Review: THE NUTCRACKER Maine State Ballet
The interesting thing about The Nutcracker at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine is just how quickly an audience can settle into it, year after year, like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold night. The venue is packed with an audience of all ages, some dressed in their "night on the town" finery while others sport flannel shirts, jeans and a baseball cap. That's the magic of this production, a full-scale ballet and orchestra that appeals to a wide-ranging audience here in Maine.
Of course, there's a good chance that most of the audience knows a person involved in the production whether on stage or behind the scenes. There are more than 300 hundred folks who are part of this monumental effort.
The curtain rises in Clara Stahlbaum's (charmingly played by Emma Davis) bedroom, with her family preparing for a festive gathering on Christmas Eve where a magical world brings the child's Christmas toys to life.
Though the scene has only a few moments of pure dance, The Revelers provide plenty to look at, as we are introduced to her stage parents (and real-life parents) Frau Stahlbaum (Janet Davis) and Judge Stahlbaum (Glenn Davis) along with her mischievous brother, Fritz (Carter Siebach). The occasion is brightened by Uncle Drosselmeyer (Jonathan Miele) in black cape and top hat as a magician of sorts who adds the mysterious happens of the evening that include a nutcracker that turns into a human (played by a very young but capable, Trevor Seymour), a series of dolls that flit about, a tree that grows to monumental proportions, and a toy army that comes to life and defeats an army of mice that haunt the stage.
The pre-intermission scene concludes with a mesmerizing "Waltz of the Snowflakes," one of the most charmingly delightful compositions in the show. Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky's flowing romantic melodies are breathtaking and the highly charged choreography pulsates to a finale complete with a snow globe-like storm on stage underscored by a snowflake chorus.
Act 2 of the ballet is my personal favorite. Launched with the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" featuring Rhiannon Pelletier, who is absolutely stunning on stage, the scene continues with a series of dance vignettes with a taste of imagination and musical styles typifying Spain, Arabia, and China. Standouts include Julia Lopez and Arie Eiten who channel the feel of a bullfighting ring, Adrienne Pelletier and Glenn Davis portraying Arabian Nights with dazzling steps, and Robert Shelley commanding the stage with a stirring depiction of the Russian Cossack.
There are giggles galore in the "Mother Ginger" number with Christine Marshall Dow herding a seemingly infinite number of little ribbon candy dancers that randomly pop out and return to the candy jar.
The ballet ends with the compelling Grand Pas de Deux which is a showcase for the Sugar Plum Fairy, Rhiannon Pelletier and her Cavalier, Michael Hamilton. This duo shines like no other in the production.
And if there is any type of holiday grinch in the audience, their hearts will grow three sizes larger when the youngest students of the Maine State Ballet troupe appear as tiny reindeers for Santa's sleigh.
Linda MacArthur Miele's choreography is appealing especially with leaps and spins in the Russian Dance and with effortless grace and balance in some stunning lifts in the pas de deux.
Gail Csoboth does double duty in creating sets and costumes. The sets are vast and eye catching as they fill every corner of the Merrill Auditorium stage and the costumes, which easily number in the hundreds, are colorful and magical in their detail and precision.
Conductor, Karla M. Kelley Brenner leads the orchestra in performing Tchaikovsky's score, which includes some of the most recognizable pieces of music ever written that makes an annual appearance during the holiday season. Every note is crisp and full whether listening to the tinkling sound of the celesta, the tambourine that drives the Russian dance or the harp that gives the ethereal sounds to the program.
The Nutcracker runs through December 9. Tickets can be purchased at boxoffice.portix.com