Since retiring from the Spurs in 2009 after eight seasons that brought him three championship rings and seven consecutive selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive team, Bruce Bowen has split his time between his job as an NBA analyst for ESPN and family life in San Antonio that includes coaching the youth football and basketball teams for which his sons, 11-year-old Ojani and 9-year-old Ozmel, play.
Now, Bowen is about to return to the “field of play” himself. On Friday night, he again will suit up for a live performance, but won’t be wearing his No. 12 Spurs jersey. Instead, he will don the outlandish costume of Mother Ginger and “dance” in Ballet San Antonio’s first of nine performances of the popular holiday ballet, The Nutcracker.
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Mother Ginger doesn’t actually dance. Instead, the character waddles across the stage during Act II, wearing a dress with a skirt so wide that her children emerge from beneath it to join with other young dancers on the stage.
Bowen is confident he can handle the role.
“I don’t feel nervous about it,” Bowen said, “because I know the professional dancers will make sure I’m okay, just like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker did. This part of the ballet is not predicated on me, just like the Spurs offense wasn’t predicated on me. The professional dancers keep telling me, ‘Don’t worry, you are doing great.’”
Bowen will be the first of four celebrity guests performing the Mother Ginger role. Others will be Michael Rohlf, vice president of Neiman Marcus San Antonio, on Sunday, Nov. 27; KSAT-12 meteorologist Mike Osterhage, on Friday, Dec. 2; and Gordon Hartman, founder of Morgan’s Wonderland and the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, on Saturday, Dec. 3.
Bowen’s participation in this year’s production began with a request from the mother of one of his youth football players.
“Christine Mayer, whose son, Magnus, is on the flag football team I coach, is heavily involved in Ballet San Antonio,” Bowen said. “She saw how I interact with so many kids on the football team and thought I would be a good choice to be a celebrity guest in The Nutcracker, because there are about 100 young children in the cast. I went to a rehearsal and was just blown away by how good the (dance) company is. So, I agreed to do it and it has been a blast.”
Bowen’s role as Mother Ginger doesn’t require pirouettes or jetés, but during rehearsals he was impressed by the athleticism of the dancers who execute the choreography with such grace and precision.
“They get up in the air so easily and land so gracefully,” Bowen said. “In basketball, you can get up easily enough, but it’s the landing that is tough. Of course, the dancers don’t have anyone banging and shoving them while they’re in the air. Plus, they point their toes.”
Bowen was amazed by the interaction among the dancers and Artistic Director Willy Shives, who completed an all-new choreography for this season’s performances. Shives also is including special choreography for Land of Snow and Waltz of the Flowers by legendary Joffrey Ballet Co-Founder and Artistic Director Gerald Arpino.
“Watching Willy, he is exactly like the head coach,” said Bowen, whose eight Spurs seasons were under Gregg Popovich. “His instructions are so precise. It reminded me so much of Pop when, say, a wing player gets the ball and Tim (Duncan) is posting up and the wing player is trying to enter a pass to him. In practice, Pop would say, ‘No, take one dribble down towards the baseline and then enter the pass.’
“As minute as this sounds – No, it is so important. And that’s what separates Pop and Willy from so many others. They can fine tune the fine-tuned, and that really makes them special.”
Shives retired recently from The Joffrey Ballet after a long dancing career that included 11 full performances of The Nutcracker, which he calls his favorite ballet. He is as impressed with Bowen’s passion for his guest role as Bowen was with Shives’ devotion to his role as artistic director.
“Bruce has been fantastic,” Shives said. “When he came in he was so pumped. He sat in front as we were rehearsing, and saw me giving notes to the ballet master about this or that and he said, ‘Yeah, I can see you’re the coach, giving the notes to your assistant coach, just like Coach Pop.’ It was great to hear that, considering where he is coming from.
“Bruce had such great passion and positive energy. Then, he got up to rehearse and it’s like he had been doing it all his life. He was great, just amazing. And acting, oh, my gosh. He was just on it. ‘Saturday Night Live’ may be calling on him any time now.”
The Spurs will be playing a game against the Boston Celtics at Boston’s T.D. Garden on Friday, but Bowen hopes one former teammate might show up to watch him as Mother Ginger. Recently retired Spurs superstar Tim Duncan learned of Bowen’s ballet debut and phoned him to verify it was true.
“He cracked up, said, ‘Wait, you’re doing what?’” Bowen said. “So, I would not be surprised if he were in the audience. He will want to see skinny old Bruce Bowen trying to keep up with the kids and do the right thing.”
Inspired by the E.T.A. Hoffman tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, The Nutcracker is a full-length classical ballet that has become an annual holiday favorite. The music, by P.I. Tchaikovsky, will be provided for Ballet San Antonio by the San Antonio Symphony, under the direction of Associate Conductor Akiko Fujimoto.
The ballet tells the story of a young girl’s dream, which takes her on a magical journey to the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of the Sweets. The adventure includes a battle with the Mouse King, a nutcracker doll turning into a handsome prince, and a delightful dance celebration, under the spell of The Sugar Plum Fairy, that includes Mother Ginger’s foray on the stage.
Ballet San Antonio has scheduled nine performances at the H-E-B Performance Hall at The Tobin Center for Performing Arts, beginning with Friday’s 7:30 p.m. performance, followed by a 2 p.m. Saturday matinee and a 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening offering. A fourth weekend performance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Four performance are scheduled for next week: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 1; 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3; and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 4.
Tickets can be purchased online, via phone, and in-person at the Tobin Center’s box office, located at 100 Auditorium Circle. Box office hours are Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tickets are $29, $44, $64, $89, and $119.