During Kathryn Manger's very first Nutcracker season with Pennsylvania Ballet in 2015, an injury and a hunch prompted artistic director Angel Corella to cast her in the role of Sugarplum Fairy. She learned it overnight. "That's all quite rare for an apprentice," says assistant artistic director Samantha Dunster, who has known the dancer since her student days in Connecticut. Now a fastidious member of the corps de ballet, Manger has performed principal roles in Cinderella and Don Quixote, connecting deeply with her partner as well as the audience.
Manger danced the role of Sugarplum Fairy while still an apprentice. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.
Company: Pennsylvania Ballet
Hometown: Hartford, Connecticut
Training: The Hartt School Community Division Dance Department (formerly the School of the Hartford Ballet)
Accolades: Gold for senior female and pas de deux at the Connecticut Classic Competition, top 12 finalist at the 2012 Youth America Grand Prix
Long road to Pennsylvania: While spending a summer in Spain with Corella's company during high school, Manger knew it was a relationship she wanted to continue. She completed high school and then danced for one season each with Milwaukee Ballet II and Minnesota Ballet before she got the call from Corella to be part of his vision.
"Katie is a bottle of magic of a dancer, the pure essence of a ballerina. Onstage she looks like a giant." —Angel Corella
On being small: At first Manger was concerned that her height could be an obstacle (she's 5' 1"). "But in the corps I'm there, always in the front, arms just so. There's no hiding in the back when you're petite!"
Manger is petite but dances with bravado. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.
The "dirty" work: In the studio Manger is extraordinarily specific, executing a rond de jambe en l'air at the barre as if her supporting knee is too hot to touch. This tiny dynamite is quietly determined in class, finishing tidily even through the wobbly days. Corella has noticed: "She's gained the respect of the company. She works equally as hard in the corps as she does in her principal roles."
Challenges and opportunities: Manger acknowledges that being cast above your rank can be nerve-racking. "It's a lot of pressure, you have to have a good mental game and prove yourself." She also insists that the process is just as important as the performance. "I don't care if I'm eighth cast and never get onstage. Learning the part is a great way to push your artistry."