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For Katherine Barkman, Falling Onstage Led to Her Latest Job Offer

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

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."

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

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Left: Misa Kuranaga in The Veritginous Thrill of Exactitude. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet. Right: Sasha Mukhamedov in Apollo. Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet just announced some major news: longtime Boston Ballet star Misa Kuranaga will be joining the company as a principal dancer for the 2019-20 season, while Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov has been hired as a soloist. They join a slew of newly promoted SFB principals and soloists, announced earlier this year.

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Ballet Stars
Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

On June 22, National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will retire from the stage after 22 years with the company. Originally from Dalian, China, Yu studied at the Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to Canada's National Ballet School at age 17. She joined the National Ballet of Canada less than two years later, and was promoted to principal in 2001.

"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

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