Kelsey Thompson, Fredericksburg resident who performed in theater and dance productions as a student here, will return as part of Ballet Magnificat! at the Cailloux Theater Thursday evening. Photo credit: Heidi Wise
by Phil Houseal
When I first watched Kelsey Thompson perform, she was a “dancing napkin” in the Fredericksburg Theater Company production of Beauty and the Beast.
Even in the role of table linens she stood out on the stage.
Six years later, she is returning to the Hill Country for a one-night performance with Ballet Magnificat!, a Christian ballet company based in Jackson, Mississippi.
It turns out that Kelsey’s stint in that summer musical at age 18 marked a turning point in the Fredericksburg resident’s life.
“Being part of Beauty and the Beast was when I realized that I really loved performing,” she said during a phone call from Mississippi. “Being around actors and vocalists and seeing all the work that went into it gave me a bigger perspective about being part of a production like that. I had so much fun, learning that I actually liked this musical theater.”
So when she completed her home school studies, Kelsey decided to pursue her performing ambitions and auditioned for Ballet Magnificat! [My column about Kelsey's Celtic dancing with her family]
Ballet Magnificat! is a Christian ballet company that was founded in 1986. It is an arts organization that is also a ministry, dedicated to spreading the message of the Gospel around the world.
Kelsey, the daughter of Drew and Monda Thompson, was accepted and spent the next three years in their Trainee program, taking classes in discipleship and dance technique, along with performing opportunities. For the past three years, Kelsey moved up to Alpha Company. This group of about 25 dancers tours domestically two weeks per month, and every spring does a five to six-week tour overseas.
The dancer’s daily routine is demanding. A typical day begins at 5:30 a.m., when she goes to work at a coffee shop. At 9:30 a.m., she attends devotion, before starting classes and rehearsals at 10 a.m. That ends around 4 p.m., when the dancers often find themselves working on props or sewing costumes into the evening.
Performing does not offer a break from this grueling pace. In fact, when I asked Kelsey about the best part and the worst part of her experience, she gave the same answer: Touring.
“That in itself is my favorite part, but it is also hard, because touring is a lot of wear and tear on your body.”
Ballet Magnificat! dancers do triple duty. They arrive at the auditorium four hours before curtain time to set up the stage and the set. After dancing, they strike the set that same night, often heading out to another show the next day.
But it is that hard work that invigorates and inspires the dancers. “It brings us together as friends and coworkers,” Kelsey explained. “We learn to work together outside of dancing.”
Ballet Magnificat! stands apart from other touring companies because they don’t do typical ballets. All shows feature original choreography. Kelsey calls them “dramatic ballets that tell a story.” After all, that’s what drew her to dance in the first place. “I didn’t realize how much I loved the theatrical aspect of dancing, of being a character and telling a story. I was pleased to learn what type of performance Ballet Magnificat! does.”
Her time with Ballet Magnificat! has opened the world. Kelsey at 24 has already toured Asia, the Philippines, China, Korea, and Europe. In Southeast Asia she had the opportunity to visit an international school, where she may have discovered the next step in her journey.
“After we performed for them, I got to interact with the teachers,” she said. “I was very surprised by what they had to say, by their vision for academic excellence and strong physical foundation as well. It inspired me, and reminded me that I love teaching, I love seeing that light bulb go on.”
Just as it came on for her when she was a local dance student at Miss Rhonda’s School of Dance, the Fredericksburg Youth Ballet Ensemble, and Kerrville School of Dance. She sends an invitation to those young girls currently studying dance.
“If you are a dance student, you should definitely come out,” Kelsey said. “What we present is different than the normal classical ballet. This performance will show how dance can be used to share a message, and the message we share is the Gospel. More than that, we have high technical excellence.”
And Ballet Magnificat! is not just for dancers. “I’ve heard dads come up and say, ‘That was more entertaining than anything I’ve seen.’ There is lots of action, and with the dramatic elements we bring, people are very engaged. It broadens your perspective of dance.”Who knows? It just might inspire another young dancer to follow in her footsteps.