Katherine Barkman with Rolando Sarabia in the Black Swan pas de deux at The Washington Ballet. Photo by Mena Brunette of XMB Photography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

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

Age: 22

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."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021