Winchester native Catherine Martin is living the dream, though it may not be every dancer’s dream.
Ballerinas traditionally entertain ambitions to dance off to one of the prestigious international companies like the Joffrey Ballet or American Ballet Theatre in world arts capitols like New York.
But since she was a preteen, Martin wanted to take her talents to Jackson, Miss.
That’s the home base of Ballet Magnificat, the faith-based dance troupe she first saw when she was 5, and the group made a tour stop in the Lexington area. When she was 12, she started attending summer dance intensives the company held in Mississippi.
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“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Martin said of the company. “I can’t remember not knowing about it, and now I’m the one doing it.”
The real draw, she says, was getting to know company dancers as tours came through and, “they seemed like the coolest people. And the fact that they want to share the gospel through the dance — it’s not just that we’re group of dancers who happen to be Christians — it’s more meaningful. There’s more behind it than just to be the best.”
After graduating from George Rogers Clark High School in 2009, Martin moved to Jackson to join the company’s trainee program, which she did for four years. She is now in her fifth year as a full member of the company.
“It’s not normal, for sure,” Martin says of the marriage of dance and faith, in her career. “It’s a privilege … and I’m thankful to have all these people around me who are pursuing the same thing. You can get used to it, but it’s nice to be reminded every once in a while that it’s not normal, and I’m very thankful that I get to do it.”
Those reminders can come in people who find it fascinating — or puzzling — that a person can have a full-time job dancing for a Christian ballet company, and seeing the excitement of trainees, like Martin was a few years ago, graduate to membership in the company.
Martin gets to show home state fans how far she’s come March 3 when her tour group visits the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts.
The program the company will present somewhat reflects her training in Kentucky at Kentucky Ballet Theatre and Winchester Ballet, she says. The first half will be dances set to contemporary worship songs, presented in a modern style, like she learned in Winchester. The second half, “The Prodigal’s Journey,” is in a more classical style reminiscent of her Ballet Theatre training.
Dancing at the EKU Center will be something of a treat for the company, Martin says. Ballet companies generally seek venues that offer things like floors set on springs, to reduce the wear and tear on dancers bodies, and theatrical accommodations like wing and fly space, as well as standard stage sizes so dancers can move pretty much as they’ve practiced.
But, given Ballet Magnificat’s mission, the company ends up in a lot of non-traditional dance spaces such as churches and Christian schools that often lack some of those accoutrements.
“We just prepare beforehand knowing the stage might be really hard, or the wings — we may not have wings — or the stage might be smaller than we want it to be,” Martin says. “We just have this mindset of, each venue is different, and we can’t expect to do everything exactly the same every time.”
The company plans time into its schedule to orient itself to each venue and plan how to present the program, she says.
“It’s kind of fun, actually, because every performance is different,” Martin says.
Like many other ballet companies, Ballet Magnificat has given Martin a chance to see the world, with tours in South America, Europe, and most recently, Israel. The latter trip allowed her and the company to see some sights in the holy land, and though there was a language barrier with some audiences, they enjoyed an enthusiastic response, she says.
But Martin is particularly excited to make a return trip to Kentucky.
“It kind of feels like I can give back to them, almost,” Martin said. “So many of the people that are coming to the show have supported me financially or spiritually or emotionally — every kind of way. So it’s neat to be like, ‘Oh, I can show you what you’ve invested in.’ So, hopefully they’ll be encouraged and blessed to be able to see that.”