For Katherine Barkman, Falling Onstage Led to Her Latest Job Offer
Katherine Barkman's career reads like a storybook: At 18, she left Pennsylvania and moved to the Philippines to become a principal at Ballet Manila. She danced Juliet, Giselle, Odette/Odile and Kitri, but three years in, it was time for new challenges. Late last year, Barkman joined The Washington Ballet, bringing her scintillating, pure Vaganova technique and her warm stage persona to U.S. audiences.
Company: The Washington Ballet
Hometown: Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Accolades: USA International Ballet Competition (silver), Varna IBC (silver), Asian Grand Prix (grand prix), Valentina Kozlova IBC (gold)
Competing at Varna
Photo by Ani Collier, Courtesy The Washington Ballet
Vaganova training: When Barkman was ready to get serious about ballet at 14, her mother found Vaganova expert Nadia Pavlenko. "When I went for a trial class, they told me I danced like a monkey," says Barkman. Undeterred, she signed on for private lessons and completed high school online.
Unconventional route: American Ballet Theatre invited her to join its Studio Company when she was 17, but Barkman turned it down. "Physically I needed one more year of training." After that, she sent out more than 50 resumés and Ballet Manila offered her a principal position. "I knew I had to go because I was going to get to dance roles that I wouldn't touch for another 10 years if I joined a bigger company."
Life in Manila: Leaving the comfort of her suburban home was hard. "I didn't have enough money to get my own place, so I was living in a dorm with five girls and doing laundry in a tub with a hose."
Finding meaning: Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde frequently sent Barkman to international competitions and guest performances. Just as often, the company would perform for children in the country's poorest neighborhoods. "I would dance the Rose Adagio in a basketball court. I had never imagined that ballet would make kids so happy."
Barkman in Balanchine's Tarantella
Mena Brunette of XMB Photography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet
Coming home: When competing at the Jackson IBC in 2018, Barkman received a silver medal, despite falling onstage. "I made the choice to not let that cripple me," she says. That's when she met The Washington Ballet's artistic director, Julie Kent, who invited her to guest at TWB's season opener—and then join the company. "I was impressed with Katherine immediately," says Kent. "She's just got such a real ballerina quality."
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.