For two Saint Joseph’s students, the last week of the fall 2013 semester was extra busy. In addition to preparing for final exams, sophomore Rhiannon Pelletier and senior Lizzy Dragoni took to the stage at Merrill Auditorium in Portland as principal soloists in Maine State Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, from November 30 through December 8.

Rhiannon Pelletier“It’s a thrill,” said Pelletier, “standing in the wings, knowing you’re about to step onto a stage before [thousands] of people.” Pelletier, a writing and publishing major from Raymond, Maine, noted that a performance like this is a dream come true.  “To be in our home state and give the audience a joyful escape from the real world for a couple of hours is all a dancer could ever hope for. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have the resources to do so.” She performed as a Snowflake, Dew Drop, and the Sugar Plum Fairy on alternate days of the production.

“Dancing in The Nutcracker is something quite magical,” said Dragoni, a fine arts major from Scarborough, Maine. “There’s a certain exuberance that comes with performing in front of [thousands] of people. We ballet dancers strive for this rush as we tirelessly rehearse in hopes of delivering the perfect performance. It is an indescribable bliss.” Along with Pelletier, Dragoni also performed as a Snowflake.

For both students, this performance was the next step in their already advanced careers as dancers. Pelletier began dancing with Maine State Ballet at the age of eight, in 2003. After the dance school, she was previously with closed in 2002, her mother took to her a performance of The Nutcracker. “I fell in love with the show,” she said. “And upon seeing some of the younger performers, I came to the conclusion that I could do it too. I was enrolled in the next year.” Before Maine State Ballet became part of her life, Pelletier began dancing in 2001, at age six, in Winslow, Maine. Her journey to what she called a “big girl role” has been difficult, she said. “It takes commitment and passion for the art, but is one that has taught me invaluable lessons and given me experiences more amazing than I could have ever dreamed.”

Pelletier’s work with Maine State Ballet includes performing in Hansel & Gretel, Sleeping BeautySwan Lake, and Don Quixote.

Lizzy DragoniDragoni, too, has been with Maine State Ballet for a number of years and has an established history in dance. It all began at age four at Scarborough Dance Center, studying ballet, tap, and jazz. She then studied with former Rockette Cheryl Greeley at her studio in South Portland. At age 12 she signed up Maine State Ballet. “At the time I joined Maine State Ballet, I was dancing on a well-known competitive dance team and also cheerleading. I went to see Maine State Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Merrill Auditorium that year and noticed the face of one of my friends from the competitive dance team. I remember thinking ‘I can do that. I’m going to do that!’” She enrolled with the company just a few weeks later. “I found that ballet gave me passion and motivation.”

In addition to The Nutcracker, Dragoni’s credits include roles in The Magic Toy ShopCoppéliaDon QuixoteThe FirebirdNapoliAlice in Wonderland, and a forthcoming appearance in Cinderella.

With a history going back to the early 20th century, Maine State Ballet has a strong connection with the performing arts in Maine. In 2012 their performances reached audiences of nearly 15,000, according to the company’s historical biography. For Pelletier and Dragoni, their work with the company gives their professional and creative portfolios a leading edge and is sure to make a significant impression on their careers as creative professionals.