Behind the ScenesBy MEGAN PHILLIPS,
Lynda wright helps make Ballet Mississippi ‘just so beautiful’
Having taken ballet classes all her life, being in charge of the box office, accounts, and even filling in as “Mother Ginger” for three years during The Nutcracker performances, Lynda Wright could be called the backbone of Ballet Mississippi.
Lynda was born and raised in Laurel, where she attended George S. Gardiner High School.
Starting at just six years old, Lynda began developing her love for ballet, and she has continued to take classes throughout her life.
As a child, she took lessons until she was 13 years old. Lynda also took classes for three years in college.
“I took ballet at the W (Mississippi State College for Women),” she said. “I got pneumonia on the golf course, so my pediatrician in Laurel set up an excuse that I could not take anything but ballet.”
After she graduated with a double major in business and English, Lynda worked in Memphis at a bank. She then worked under former Lt. Gov. Carroll Gartin, another Laurel native.
Lynda moved to Washington D.C. in the early years of former President Richard Nixon. There she worked for former Mississippi Rep. G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery before settling down permanently in Jackson.
She then began taking another ballet class at Ballet Mississippi, at the time called Jackson Ballet.
“We did bar work and floor work and one or two of the girls were actually in performances,” she said. “I wasn’t there to be a professional. I danced for my soul… We had such a good group, and we were so into it.”
During that time, Lynda worked for the R and D Center. Later, she became a nurse recruiter for the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
“I left there in 2003, and travelled all over the state. That was fun.”
Afterward, she decided to retire, but that didn’t last long. Ballet Mississippi Artistic and Executive Director David Keary originally met Lynda when he was a teenager and a dancer at the Jackson Ballet, when she was taking the adult ballet class in the early 1970s.
David needed someone to fill in as the office manager, and Lynda’s name came up. But to David and Ballet Mississippi, Lynda became much more than that.
“I’ve known her all my life,” David said. “When she came in, it was (supposed to be) only for the summer. She was just wonderful to work with… So, I asked her to stay…”
Lynda started working at Ballet Mississippi in 2004, thinking it would only be for a couple of months. “That was 13 years ago, and I’ve been here ever since,” Lynda said.
“She has transformed the place and made it just so beautiful,” David said. “Everything is structured and ordered. She loves ballet and supports everything about it and I don’t know what I would do without her.”
When Lynda started working at Ballet Mississippi, all of the office work was completed manually. Now, however, almost everything from tickets to tuition accounts is computerized.
“Everything was done by hand, and now everything’s electronic,” she explained.
Lynda has also been a part of The Nutcracker. For three years — 2012, 2013 and 2014 — Lynda was Mother Ginger.
“We had a teacher who taught the little ones who died unexpectedly,” Lynda said. “Susan Hamilton had taught and died unexpectedly in October, and because she taught, the little ones that were under the skirt in “Mother Ginger” were very attached to her.”
So, David asked Lynda if she would fill the role. Although there was a level of adjustment for both Lynda and the children, Lynda’s experience was nothing short of wonderful.
“The first year was the hardest for them and for me. The second year, the little girls didn’t know any different… But it was a physical test to get up in that contraption.”
Not only is there a large skirt and padding involved in the costuming, but as “Mother Ginger,” Lynda had to crawl up stairs on her hands and knees before pulling herself onto a platform six feet off the ground.
“That’s what I had to do at age 70 — pull myself up and then stand on that platform.”
During one performance in 2012, Lynda’s wig accidentally fell off, but she was so graceful about it, no one realized it wasn’t part of the show.
“David was pushing (the platform)… All of a sudden, I was just looking out with my skull cap on and this awful-looking makeup. I said, ‘Oh, it fell off!’ David said, ‘What (did)?’ And he threw it up on top (of) the skirt, and I just picked it up and put it back on. People loved that.”
Lynda said between being behind the scenes and on stage, she’d rather be on stage.
“I’m just so full of myself,” she laughed. “I loved what I did, and that really is more me than the technical part of it, but I enjoy the technical part (too)… If I said I liked being behind the scenes, everybody that knows me would know I was lying… I loved being on stage.”
Each year, Ballet Mississippi has three main performances — one in the fall, The Nutcracker as the Christmas performance, and a spring show. The company also does four or five pieces that are not ticketed events.
For the fall and spring shows, it takes approximately two months to prepare. For The Nutcracker, which is performed in December, dancers begin rehearsing four months in advance.
And Lynda loves working with the rest of the members of Ballet Mississippi.
“We have such good group, and they’re very tolerant of me and my age and my lack of technical skills. They are really good to me, and I love being around them. I don’t feel any gap… I just enjoy them the way they are.”
However, Lynda wishes she could see the students more often.
“I don’t get to see them as much as I used to, but it’s fun to watch them (grow). And David knows that I love ballet, and I can go in and watch classes sometimes when I have time. I don’t get to do it very often.”
In her spare time, Lynda reads, needlepoints, and arranges flowers. She’s also part of a book club.
“I needlepoint, just not as much as I used to. And I love to read. I’m in the book club. The people (in the club) are so wonderful, they really are… It makes you feel like you’re a part of things.”
As for Ballet Mississippi, Lynda says it’s perhaps the best job she’s had in her life.
“It’s the most fun, satisfying job I’ve ever had. I never dreamed that I’d have a job where I would be this happy. It’s just wonderful.”