Welcome back, San Diego Ballet.

A capacity crowd roared its approval again and again Saturday night for the Billings Symphony Orchestra's collaboration with San Diego Ballet for the 40th annual performance of “The Nutcracker.''

After an absence of six years, the San Diego company was a welcome addition to the annual production. Dramatic choreography, skillful young dancers, and ample opportunities for local dancers to shine made the production the best in recent memory.

The final performance is Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Alberta Bair Theatre.

Fun touches brought out the humor throughout the production. John Phung as Mother Ginger made hand gestures ala “YMCA.'' The band of oversized rats who attack Clara (Kierra Egger) and her Nutcracker prince (Patrick Miller) in Act I looked like a red-eyed army of gypsies. And when King Rat takes a fatal blow from Clara's shoe, his widow pirouettes in her ragged tulle.

Particularly stunning was the choreography in the Arabian Coffee scene where Caitlyn Ross folds herself over Askar Kettebekov. Trystan Loucado as the Cavalier and Abby Avery as the Sugarplum Fairy handled startling aerial moves, including having Avery thrown into the air, with grace and ease.

And the tiniest of dancers brought down the house every time they tiptoed across the stage, dressed as long-eared sheep, candy girls and pink-diapered baby rats.

More than 60 local dancers performed in the ballet, gliding around the professional dancers in intricate sequences in the Chinese Tea scene and the snow and flower scenes. Always a crowd favorite, the snow scene featured more than 25 blue-and-white-costumed dancers, swirling in place before forming a giant human snowflake.

The frosting on the scene was the sweet voices of the Rimrock Opera Chorus for Kids signing with the orchestra, under the direction of Anne Harrigan.

The next BSO concert is the New Year's Eve show with Doug LeBreque.

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