Marvin St. Pierre has been "dancing" the role of Mother Ginger in Civic Dance Center's annual production of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" ballet since 1992. It is a role he relishes and a performance that adds some hilarity to the fantasy-romance of the ballet.
"That was the year they acquired the costume," St. Pierre said. "I guess I came along with the costume."
Actually, St. Pierre came along with his three daughters Kaytie, Aimee and Kellie, who as children wanted to dance in the annual production. St. Pierre said someone with the production asked his wife, Kimm, if he would do the role -- she said yes for him.
"We never played soccer; we were always doing ballet," St. Pierre said. "So it was a great way to be involved with them."
This year's performance at the Rabobank Theater marks the 36th annual production of the ballet, opening on Friday for two evening performances and two matinees, in addition to abridged productions for Kern County schoolchildren. This year's performance features Shelby Hagelstein and Erica Ueberroth sharing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy; David Moreno as the Nutcracker Prince; and Kimberly Marquez and Katie Walsh sharing the role of Clara.
The production also includes almost all of Civic Dance Center's student dancers, and several adults, like St. Pierre, in featured roles such as "Mother Ginger."
"Mother Ginger" appears in the second act of the ballet. She is a woman with many children, who jump out from under her voluminous skirts to dance for Clara and the Prince as they travel through the fantasy kingdom.
"I get this picture in my mind that this is someone who always wanted to be a dancer and never got the chance because she had all of these children to take care of," St. Pierre said of his preparation for the role.
St. Pierre said he started with having his character mimic dance moves -- twirling, sashaying, using her fan -- while the children attempt to upstage her with their adorable antics.
St. Pierre wears an enormous hooped dress for the part, inspired by antebellum Southern gowns.
"It was designed by the Bob Mackie Studio," St. Pierre said. "They really put some thought into how an actor can move about in that costume."
St. Pierre said he has spent hours working with the dress, learning how to make it move for maximum effect while he sways or twirls.
"I've received a lot of compliments from visiting dancers on the costume," St. Pierre said. "This costume allows you to do a lot of things."
That "lot of things" includes St. Pierre's additions to Mother Ginger's "shtick" over time, including what is probably the longest exit ever.
"This is a person who never wants to get off the stage now," St. Pierre said.
Neither does St. Pierre. His daughters are grown women with families of their own, but he continues with the ballet for the fun of it.
"It's really a joy to do this," St. Pierre said.