Photo credit: Liza Voll
From studio to stage, bringing Mother Ginger to life is a feat as large as her skirt.
Artist Drew Nelson gets his make-up and wig set in placePhoto credit: Liza Voll
Best recognized by her enormous hoop skirt from which her eight Polichinelle children emerge, the appearance of larger-than-life Mother Ginger in Act II of The Nutcracker never fails to delight. However, getting Mother Ginger stage-ready requires far more people than could ever fit under her voluminous skirt.
The process begins in the studio just a few weeks before opening night. The 50lb skirt is brought in from the warehouse where it is stored with sets and props during the off season and is set up on two tripods so that the Costume Shop staff can make any necessary repairs to it.
This particular Mother Ginger costume was built in-house and is original to Mikko Nissinen’s production. It consists of a large aluminum hoop, approximately 24 feet in circumference, with arched rods to ensure that the frame holds a rounded shape. Foam is inserted on top of the frame so that the bars do not show through. The entire frame is draped in almost 60 yards of fabric, digitally printed with scenes from an old European theater.
Mother Ginger is typically played by the taller male members of the Company. For Artist Drew Nelson, who stands at just over 6’1″, this is his third year performing the role of Mother Ginger in The Nutcracker. Fittingly, his earliest role was as a little Polichinelle boy, one of Mother Ginger’s children.
The dancers have only one rehearsal in studio working with the costume before going into the theater. Typically the dancers who are new to the role are given the chance to first practice walking around in the stilts. “Every year it gets easier and easier—it’s just like riding a bike,” says Nelson.
Once they get their bearings, they are set up in an under-corset which has rigging to attach to the skirt, with two levels to adjust for the height of the dancer. Nelson reflects on his first time in the costume, “Once you get used to it, you just have to use the weight of the dress and not fight back against it. It’s really tough on your quads and your calves. Every time I jump off the stilts, I have to take a few minutes to stretch.”
ARTIST DREW NELSON
Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor
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