A sold-out house Saturday night at the Alberta Bair Theater took in the sweetest treat in town — “The Nutcracker” ballet, a Billings holiday tradition for many years.

The gorgeous music composed by Peter Tchaikovsky, the lavish costumes and inventive choreography make this annual event popular for families. Part of the fun is seeing so many local children, 60 dancers and more than 50 vocalists, perform with professional musicians from the Billings Symphony Orchestra and professional dancers from Ballet Idaho.

The dance company made its Billings debut Saturday with the production, showcasing artful backdrops and stunning costumes. A young troupe, it didn’t wow with its choreography, but it was refreshing to see dancers bring so much energy to the production.

The Billings dancers from the School of Classical Ballet were cast in many roles, among them mice, soldiers, party kids and angels.

During the second act, student dancers took on “mini-roles,” mimicking the costumes and some of the choreography that Ballet Idaho dancers performed in the “Land of the Sweets” scenes.

Again, it was a nice way to involve more local girls, and clearly, a large percentage of the audience knew or were related to the young dancers, and lavished them with plenty of applause.

The BSO, under the direction of Anne Harrigan, put the polish to the colorful and familiar score, especially in the Sugar Plum Fairy’s  scene and in the Dance of the Flowers. The Rimrock Opera Chorus for Kids vocalists added their fresh voices to the Snowflake scene, and two Billings girls, Kierra Egger and Tippy Dringman, were perfectly cast as the battling siblings Clara and Fritz.

Among the top dancers from Ballet Idaho was an athletic male dancer, Andrew Taft, whose ambitious spins and aerial kicks in the Russian scene were jaw-dropping.

Pink plastic tiaras and tiny nutcracker snow globes were hot sellers at the merchandise table. And tickets for Sunday’s 2 p.m. matinee performance were down to the last 100 by Saturday night.

The ABT box office opens Sunday at noon, and tickets are $20 for children and $25 and $40 for adults.

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