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."