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."
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"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.