Everyone loves the antics of Mother Ginger and her Bon Bons in the second act of The Nutcracker! In fact, her lively variation has been the start of many aspiring dancers’ performance careers. We recently took some time to chat with the sweet matron and get some answers to some long pondered questions.
Mother Ginger, The Nutcracker 1974
Q: How long have you been a part of the California Ballet’s Nutcracker ballet?
A: I have been a part of the California Ballet Company’s Nutcracker since the very beginning. But when the ballet was first performed in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1892 Mother Ginger was not part of the production. I was added to the story by Choreographer George Balanchine in 1954.
Q: Who is Mother Ginger?
A: Also known as Mere Gigogne is, she was an identifiable line of bonbons that sold in St. Petersburg in 1890. The tin box was in the shape of a woman in a LARGE panniered skirt. The box opened at the bottom of the panniers, and all the little bonbons were inside. The character of Mere Gigone itself originates from French puppet comedy in the 17th century as a woman always fighting with her multiple children who- indeed- at times come hide under her large skirt.
Q: What can you tell me about your dress?
A: My dress has 2 large hoops to allow for my buxom figure, and my many children. My dress was first designed and created by Flora Jennings-Small, Director Maxine Mahon’s mother. It has been refit for me many times over the years, and completely remade once. My dress is the largest costume in the entire ballet, even bigger than the Rat King’s!
Q: How much does your dress weigh?
A: My dress weighs about 40 pounds, and takes a good amount of back strength to dance in it. It takes three wardrobe assistants and one step stool to help me into my dress! Once it’s on, I can’t take it off or sit down until after the performance.
Q:Do you wear a multitude of petticoats?
A: No, only bloomers, and there are bon bons under my skirt!
Q: How many bon bons are under your skirt?
A: 8 Bon bons for every performance. The Bon Bons sometimes hang on to my bloomers, not good, as I can not pull them up with the large hoops in my dress. Every so often, my bon bons will get tangled in between my legs. Once, in the middle of a performance, they tripped me! I had to be very careful so as not to squish my children, and I fell flat on my back with my skirts straight up in the air!
Q: Have you ever lost a bon bon?
A: We have had Bon Bons over the years that have been afraid to go under the skirt. Guilt always makes them go under, as “Their mother would be so worried if she didn't see them pop out from under the skirt.”
Q: What is the cutest thing a bon bon has done to take attention away from you?
A: Probably, the times a Bon Bon gets caught up in running around, and is too late to make it under the skirt, then they have to crawl under the skirt. The Taffy's were drug off stage one time by the huge Civic theatre Main Curtain when it was opening for Act 2. Miss Brenda had to unwind the curtain to take them out, all the while hearing their muffled cries.
Q: At what point in the performance do you come on stage?
A: I come onstage halfway through the second act. That means you have to stay for the whole performance to see my little bon bons, but they are well worth the wait! Many California Ballet dancers got their start as one of my bon bons, including Corps de Ballet dancers Amanda Daly, Melissa Najmabadi, Kayla Jaynes, and Katie Morone.