PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine State Ballet's performance of "The Nutcracker" is sure to awaken the holiday spirit in even the grumpiest humbug.
Sugarplum fairies, tin soldiers and a giant, growing Christmas tree light up the stage at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland as the Maine State Ballet puts on its 43rd production of the classic show which runs until December 8.
But what viewers don't see might be just as astounding as the actual show. It takes a small village of 300 dancers, dozens of volunteers, stagehands, tech people, and a 50-piece orchestra to put on "The Nutcracker."
Glenn Davis is the school director of the Maine State Ballet. He is also dancing alongside his wife in this year's performance as Clara's father, Mr. Stahlbaum.
"For us, it ushers in the holiday season," Davis said as he warms up with the dancers. Surprisingly, most of the dancers on the stage are not paid. There are only 30 company dancers from the Maine State Ballet in the performance, the rest are student dancers.
Lined up along the wall in the waiting room are more than 200 costumes, all hand sewn by volunteers, waiting for dancers to finish their hair and makeup before jumping into them. Volunteers like Alexis Bender, who has two daughters in the production, help keep the kids calm and get them to the stage on time. But she says the job is not hard.
"These kids are amazing. They want to be here," Bender said as she wheels a rack of solider suits.
Freyja Rogenes, 12, from Georgetown, is a porcelain doll in this year's ballet. She has been in "The Nutcracker" since she was 4 years old. Her grin extends from ear to ear as she shows me her curls which she admits are the hardest part of being in the production because "my hair just doesn't hold curl well, but we finally found a hairspray that works."
Kate Bender, 14, from Falmouth, glues false eyelashes to Freyja's lids.
"Everyone's a family here. It's a really, really supportive environment," Kate said as she concentrated on Freyja's eyes.
And even though these girls have been in this production for almost a decade they say they still get nervous. The excitement is almost palpable in the dressing room as a countdown is heard over the speaker.
Back on stage, the seats are full, the lights are up, and the orchestra is playing.
"A lot of people come for generations. They just love coming back every year," said Davis.
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