WEST FORT HOOD, Texas -- A Fort Hood commander will be playing "Mother Ginger" as a celebrity guest at Ballet Austin's "The Nutcracker" annual performance 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, at the Long Performing Arts Center.

Col. John C. Ulrich, commander of the U.S. Army Operational Test Command, will help celebrate the show's 54th year as the longest running production of its kind in Texas.

"Ballet Austin is thrilled to have Col. Ulrich among the ranks of our 2016 VIP 'Mother Gingers,' and we know he'll delight our audience with his performance," Ballet Austin Executive Director Cookie Ruiz said.

Ulrich hits the stage during a string of shows that began Dec. 3 and continue through Dec. 23.

His "Mother Ginger" character performs less than three minutes, and is the comedy highlight of the ballet.

Ulrich will be "dolled up," seated upon a tall platform that looks like an over-the-top giant hoop skirt costume, while wearing a curly wig, headpiece and lots of makeup, gesturing fanatically as "Bon Bons" (small children) pour out of the giant skirt, while dancing about and disappearing back under the skirt.

"Inviting important members of the Central Texas community to perform this heart-warming role in our largest production of the season has been a Ballet Austin tradition for almost two decades," Ruiz said.

"It's always an honor to have a representative of Fort Hood among our cast. We sincerely appreciate the sacrifices military personnel and their families make throughout the year -- and especially during the holidays -- to protect our freedom here at home," she added. "We're confident Col. Ulrich will do his fellow servicemen and servicewomen proud when he takes the stage!"

Based on a version of the 200-year-old story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, the ballet follows Clara's wintry adventures, from her battle with rowdy rodents to her triumphs at the Court of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The performance is filled with enchanting sets and costumes, animated choreography, and a cast of hundreds, including Ballet Austin's professional company of dancers and the accomplished students of the Ballet Austin Academy.

Run time for the ballet is approximately two hours with one 20-minute intermission between Act I and Act II.

The show also features the live accompaniment of the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

Russian composer Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, who scored the ballet, saved his most vulgar music for the "Mother Ginger" sequence.

First performed in San Francisco during 1944, the timeless ballet is staged in countless American cities every year, particularly around Christmas.

Beginning in 2004, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli's wife, Beth, was the first Fort Hood VIP to play the part while Chiarelli was the 1st Cavalry Division commander.

Since 2005, various OTC leaders, to include commanding generals, command sergeants major, and chiefs of staff have participated in the sold-out performances.

Ulrich assumed command of OTC July 12, after serving as Chief, Army Budget Liaison, at the Pentagon's Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller.

Ballet Austin is located at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive, Austin 78704.

Those interested in tickets to any of the shows can call the box office at (512) 476-2163), and there is a 20 percent military discount (retirees included). Normal ticket prices are from $42.00 to $91.00, depending on the seating arrangement chosen.

For more information on "The Nutcracker" and "Mother Ginger," go to https://balletaustin.org.

As the Army's only independent operational tester, OTC tests and assesses Army, joint, and multi-service war fighting systems in realistic operational environments, using typical Soldiers to determine whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. OTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer -- the American Soldier.