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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane ballerina to compete at prestigious Prix de Lausanne

Chelsea Thronson, 16, holds a pose before practice last week at Ballet Coeur d’Alene, where she’s in the preprofessional program. Thronson will be among eight U.S. women to dance in an international ballet competition in February at Lausanne, Switzerland. (Kathy Plonka)
Chelsea Thronson, 16, holds a pose before practice last week at Ballet Coeur d’Alene, where she’s in the preprofessional program. Thronson will be among eight U.S. women to dance in an international ballet competition in February at Lausanne, Switzerland. (Kathy Plonka)

If she wins, she gets to work.

Chelsea Thronson, a 16-year-old ballerina who lives in Spokane and trains in Coeur d’Alene, learned this month she was among eight young women in the U.S. selected to compete in the Prix de Lausanne. The international ballet competition, held in Switzerland starting Feb. 1, allows selected 15- to 18-year-olds to perform before a jury of renowned dancers.

Among the prizes: paid apprenticeships at one of the Prix de Lausanne’s prestigious partner companies – top ballets in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere – plus money for expenses. Dancers also can win a year of free tuition at one of the companies’ schools.

“Basically, every principal ballerina has been in the Prix de Lausanne,” said Thronson’s teacher, Brooke Nicholson. “The big, big ballerinas have all won it.”

When Thronson learned last week the jury will include ballet celebrities Ethan Stiefer and Franco de Vita, “I was freaking out,” she said. “I went into my parents’ room at like 5 a.m.”

Cynthia Harvey, former principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater in New York and the Royal Ballet in London, will serve as the jury president.

To apply, students provide their medical records and a video highlighting their work. Out of more than 300 applicants, 70 candidates from around the world were selected to compete in February.

For Thronson, the competition offers the chance to show what she can do in front of audiences that include artistic directors from some of the world’s most respected ballet companies.

They’ll be taking notes over the duration of the weeklong competition, Nicholson said, on how Thronson takes “corrections” and functions in a high-stress environment, along with her technique and artistry: “Does she break down? Does she cry? Does she keep her sense of humor? How strong is she mentally?”

If she landed a contract, it would be a job Thronson was born for – at a quarter-inch short of 5-foot-10, she’s lean and long-limbed, with legs and feet “shaped” for ballet, her teacher said. And it’s one she’s been training for since she was a 3-year-old in “creative movement” classes.

Thronson is the oldest of four students in the preprofessional program at Ballet Coeur d’Alene, which Nicholson took over when longtime teacher Ceci Klein retired. The students train from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the school five days a week, rehearsing a few hours each Saturday, too.

They’re working against long odds.

Landing a job in a ballet company is like making it to the Olympics, “except there’s more spots at the Olympics than there are ballet contracts,” said Nicholson, owner and artistic director of Ballet Coeur d’Alene and a veteran of the San Francisco Ballet and Boston Ballet.

But, now enrolled in Nicholson’s full-time preprofessional ballet program and scheduled to finish her online high school courses by next spring, “I was never messing around,” Thronson said, laughing.

In photos of herself as a preschooler in dance class, she said, “I’m the one who’s the most attentive in class, sitting there pointing my feet … I would tell other kids to be quiet.”

The path she’s making isn’t the high school-then-college route her parents envisioned for their oldest daughter, the only dancer in the family.

“But we’ve always been a family that encourages the kids to swing for the fences – just take a big shot,” said her father, Michael Thronson, an accountant. “Don’t be afraid to be bold.”

Starting at age 12, Thronson spent her summers in ballet programs in Boston, then New York.

If the Prix de Lausanne led her daughter far from home, for longer, “that would make me sick to my stomach,” said her mother Kerrianne Thronson, who co-owns a fitness studio on the South Hill. But she’d support her.

The summer before she was to start her freshman year of high school, Thronson’s parents watched her dance in her program in New York, at the School of American Ballet.

She was about to tell them she thought she needed to spend more time dancing during the school year, even if it meant doing high school at home.

After watching her dancing in New York, her mother said, they understood.

“She was like a completely different person – she was in her element,” Kerrianne Thronson said. “You could see the passion and love behind what she does. I think my husband probably felt the same way. That’s all we needed.”

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