When Brian Hinrichs from the Bangor Symphony Orchestra asked me if I, a “local celebrity,” wanted to make a cameo during a performance of “The Nutcracker” this year as Mother Ginger, I was initially dubious. While I feel as though I can bust a pretty solid move after several cocktails and Daft Punk comes on the stereo, I am certainly no dancer.
“Don’t worry,” Robinson Ballet artistic director Stevie McGary assured me. “You don’t actually have to dance.”
I happily signed on. Mother Ginger, after all, appears about halfway through the second act of the ballet, during the “Land of Sweets” segment. She’s traditionally played by someone wearing a gigantic hoop skirt, underneath from which a small army of dancing children (her “Polichinelles”) come running out to dance. Easy peasy, I thought.
I arrived at the Collins Center an hour before the BSO and Robinson’s 7 p.m. performance Saturday to familiarize myself with my “ride.” I say ride, because when you play Mother Ginger, you’re committing to literally strapping yourself into a contraption and then being wheeled out onstage.
Robinson’s Mother Ginger costume comprises an aluminum step ladder affixed to an extremely sturdy wheeled platform, and one very large hoop skirt with a metal frame and enough room for 10 or so kids to hide under. The player is fitted with the skirt — which has a harness that goes over your shoulders to hold it in place — and very carefully then climbs the ladder with the skirt on. You swing your leg over to the other side, you straddle the very top of the ladder, and there you sit, until it’s showtime.
I’ll admit, the first time I got on board, I was very uncomfortable. You’re about 12 feet up, you’re on wheels, and there’s no actual seat — just the top of the ladder. Unlike the very graceful dancers of Robinson Ballet, I do not have perfect balance, and when Joe Moretto, Robinson’s very kind and patient tech person, began to gently roll me out on stage during our rehearsal, I had a mildly terrified look on my face.
“It’s kind of like riding a horse,” Moretto said. “You just have to get comfortable.”
Sure enough, the second try was much better, and for the actual performance, I felt like a pro. After enjoying the first act in the audience at the Collins Center, I zipped backstage for the second act, and got to watch the 40 or so dancers who comprise the company run around during intermission. I always like watching things from backstage — the excitement, the sweat, the little in-jokes between performers, seeing little girls in reindeer costumes scamper about, watching older dancers stretch and mentally prepare. It deepens the overall experience.
Anyway, I donned the skirt and the costume, I went up the ladder, and out I was wheeled to the crowd. As instructed by Stevie McGary, I waved and blew kisses to my “children.” It was over way too quickly, to be honest, though I did afterward get to enjoy an up-close view of the “Waltz of the Flowers” segment, danced beautifully by Katherine Bickford and Jacob Hoover.
During the curtain call, I came out on stage to take my bow, feeling highly underdressed and wildly out of place among the talented dancers and BSO musicians. While I certainly think journalism is an art form, I myself am the sort of person that manages to trip on absolutely nothing and fall down in spectacular fashion, on a regular basis. A sugar plum fairy, I am not.
That said, it seems my innate goofiness is actually a strength. Just after the performance, one little reindeer told me that when I was onstage I was “really funny,” which is just about the highest praise you can get. I’ll take it.