Col. Jeffery Harris, U.S. Army Operational Test Command deputy commander and chief of staff, makes his debut as Fort Hood’s celebrity Mother Ginger for Ballet Austin’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker” at 2 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Long Performing Arts Center in Austin.
Joining the long list of other celebrity Mother Gingers, Harris is the latest soldier to trade in his Army Combat Uniform for an elaborate and over-the-top theatrical costume. The Mother Ginger costume is a tall platform that looks like a hoop skirt. The celebrity, dolled up with heavy makeup, a wild hat and a robust fake décolletage, stands atop the platform and gestures outrageously while the “Bon Bons” (small children) pour out from under the skirted platform, dance about and then disappear back under the “skirt.”
The entire performance takes less than three minutes, but is the comedic highlight of the ballet. Russian composer Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, who scored the ballet, saved his most vulgar music for this sequence. Sounding like a series of fairground tunes, the Mother Ginger sequence is wildly popular in American productions of the ballet, but not so much in Europe.
This will be the 51st performance of Ballet Austin’s “The Nutcracker.”
Beginning in 2004, Fort Hood celebrities joined the ranks of Texas elite, such as former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, humorist Kinky Friedman, Dell Computers CEO Michael Dell, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and former Gov. Ann Richards as those who have performed as Mother Ginger. Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Pete Chiarelli’s wife, Beth, was the first Fort Hood VIP to play the part, delighting more than 2,000 ballet lovers while her husband, then the 1st Cavalry Division commander, was in Iraq with the division.
Following Chiarelli were former OTC commanders Brig. Gen. Chris Tucker; Col. Curt Potts; Brig. Gen. Don MacWillie; OTC’s Command Sgt. Maj. Larry Wilson; Col. Steve Duke, OTC’s Maneuver Test Director; OTC deputy commander/chief of staff Kenny Crawford; and OTC commander then-Col. Joe Martin. All performances have been sold out.
“I’m truly looking forward to carrying on this Fort Hood tradition,” Harris said. “First, it’s an honor to represent all the soldiers, (Department of the Army) civilians, contractors and their families at this holiday event. Second, and just as importantly, it’s my pleasure to be part of Ballet Austin’s annual tradition and to be able to thank them for their support of soldiers and their families.”
Has Harris received any advice from former Mother Gingers?
“I haven’t asked for any pointers from anyone, nor have I looked at videos of previous performances,” he said with a laugh. “I want to make this effort a completely unique performance and perhaps give it a flair that the good people of Austin have not yet experienced.”