The San Diego Ballet Company and the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale delivered an early Christmas present to Billings Sunday with a spectacular performance of "The Nutcracker."

The show at the Alberta Bair Theater provided a rousing finale to the long holiday weekend. The long-standing team of the BSO and the San Diego troupe didn't stray far from their usual fare for "The Nutcracker," but the dancers threw in more physical humor and the dancing Sunday was beyond compare.

Especially notable were performances by Aaron Pomeroy as the Russian, Rachel Sebastian and Askar Kettekob as the Arabians and Stephanie Aubuchon and Ilya Kouznetsov as the sugar plum fairy and her cavalier. Pomeroy, who also performed the part of the Russian dancer last year, completed an amazing four aerial splits in a row during the cast's finale. Earlier, he bounced himself into two aerial splits and then landed with a floor split, drawing hearty applause from the crowd at the evening performance.

Sebastian seemed to move effortlessly through the demanding Arabian dance, contorting her lithe body from one unbelievable move to the next. Aubuchon and Kouznetsov masterfully performed the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in an amazing display of power, control and artistry.

The afternoon performance drew a capacity crowd of 1,390 to the theater and 900 people took in the evening performance. More than 100 local dancers performed in the ballet under the direction of Jana Stockton, Betty Loos and Julia Sims. Uri Barnea served as music director and conductor of the orchestra and Katherine Honaker directed the Community Youth Chorale.

Several local dancers provided some polish to the production, including the talented gymnasts who flipped their way through a series of handsprings, cartwheels and splits as the gingersnaps who tumble out of Mother Ginger's enormous skirt. The local dancers who made up the party girls in the first act danced with precision and Alivia Ready performed a wonderful Clara keeping up with her professional counterpart Shawn Smeltzer as the Nutcracker Prince.

The 50-minute first act provided a few new laughs compliments of Corina Maggi as the saucy maid who pokes fun at the lady of the house one minute and holds her sobbing head on her shoulder the next. The fight scene, featuring several local dancers as soldiers and junior rats, took a few creative twists from the usual show with a sobbing Queen Rat and a stage-stealing King Rat who won't die. The snowflakes, led by Snow Queen Rachel Sebastian and Snow King Mark McCulloch, and featuring more than a dozen local dancers, gave an inspiring performance. Sebastian's flexibility and McCulloch's surprising strength allowed the dance to be one of the ballet's showcase pieces. At one point in the dance, McCulloch dropped Sebastian from above his head to his waist in one graceful movement.

The one-hour second act featured flashy costuming and lively music presented by the BSO. Peter Tchaikovsky's expressive music and the whimsical ballet form a perfect partnership as they bring the Russian folk tale to the stage.

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