December 1, 2010

IT'LL BE A . . . Costume party!

Maine State Ballet gets all gussied up – including a stunning new outfit for Mother Ginger – for its upcoming run of 'The Nutcracker.'

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

Astute observers will notice something different about this year's production of "The Nutcracker," the holiday spectacle that Maine State Ballet stages each season at Merrill Auditorium in Portland.

click image to enlarge

Christine Louise Marshall looms large when she wears her Mother Ginger hat.

Gordon Chibroski

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Elizabeth Dragoni and Glenn Davis as Clara and The Nutcracker.

Courtesy Maine State Ballet

Additional Photos Below



WHEN: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Nov. 28; 7 p.m. Dec. 3; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 4; 2 p.m. Dec. 5

WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland

TICKETS: $15 to $45; 842-0800 or

INFO: 781-7672;


The Atlantic Ballet Company presents “The Nutcracker” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 and 3 p.m.
Dec. 4-5 at Camden Opera House. Call 236-7963 or visit

Portland Ballet Company presents “The Victorian Nutcracker” at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 23 at Merrill Auditorium, Portland. Call 842-0800 or visit or

For months, associate director Gail Csoboth and a team of volunteers have been laboring over the creation of a new costume for Mother Ginger, a key character in the ballet's second act. "The old one was falling apart," said Csoboth. "Poor old Mother Ginger was falling apart to the extent that the stage hands handling it were complaining loudly."

Maine State Ballet presents seven performances of the traditional retelling of the Tchaikovsky classic beginning Saturday. The MSB version is true to George Balanchine's 1954 choreography.

Sporting a cast of more than 400, the show unofficially heralds the start of the holiday entertainment season in southern Maine, and the first of four major local productions of "The Nutcracker."

Creating a new Mother Ginger costume is hardly a routine task. The character, portrayed by veteran Portland actress Christine Louise Marshall, represents a giant gingerbread house. Supported by a wheeled metal frame, the costume is large enough to hide 11 young dancers in its nether region.

As Mother Ginger moves out onto the stage, the dancers emerge from within her giant skirt. Also hiding in there are two stage hands who maneuver the beast of a costume. All told, the costume supports 14 people.

In the ballet, Mother Ginger dances onto the Sugar Plum Fairy's court. She opens her skirt, and gingerbread children emerge and circle around her. When their dance is over, the children file back into the skirt, and Mother Ginger leaves the room. All told, the character is on stage for less than four minutes.

For costume inspiration, Csoboth turned to popular TV.

"I watch cake shows a lot -- 'Cake Boss' and things like that," she said. "I see these gorgeous cakes and I say, 'That would make a cool Mother Ginger.' "

In Csoboth's vision, Mother Ginger becomes one huge confection. Csoboth used 200 yards of pink satin to make the costume, which is decorated with rosettes and swirls of sweets. Volunteer Rebecca Kurtz sewed all the rosettes.

"It's all from scratch," Csoboth said, "just as if you were to make a cake. You start with flour and eggs."

The Mother Ginger role is new to Marshall, although she played it as a last-minute fill-in 15 or so years ago. Back then, the character walked on stilts; there was no wheeled platform on which to stand. During her lone rehearsal, the young dancers hit the skirt door, and Marshall pitched forward and tumbled to the stage.

Before going out on stage for the actual performance, Marshall was in tears. "It was sheer terror and sheer terror alone that kept me from going down," she said.

Marshall embraces the role now, and harbors no fear. She is taking an actor's approach, imagining herself as the character and consulting with Csoboth and director Linda Miele about their vision for Mother Ginger.

"It's important to understand what the artistic director wants to see and what the designer envisions," said Marshall, who acts with Mad Horse Theatre and has been associated with Maine State Ballet as a dancer and instructor for many years. "I asked Gail, 'How do you envision the face?' "

Csoboth told her she sees Mother Ginger as a Venice carnival-type character, with big hair and a white face.

It's an important question, because Marshall's upper torso is all that's visible. The bottom of her body is out of view, buried within the cake. Her facial expressions and body language will convey critical information to the audience.

Marshall adores this show. She appreciates the live music and the excitement of the dancers.

Most of all, she enjoys being part of a production that is central to the holiday celebration of so many people.

"At some point during every performance, something brings me to tears," she says. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Maine State Ballet associate director Gail Csoboth talks with Christine Louise Marshall in the new Mother Ginger costume, from which 11 young dancers will emerge during “The Nutcracker.”

Gordon Chibroski


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