RP Artist Katherine Barkman is a principal dancer with Ballet Manila. In her first interview with RP, she talks about discovering ballet and developing as a professional, and how RP supports her every day.
Katherine “intuitively knew” she wanted to be a ballerina at age two, but had to wait until she turned three to be accepted at a studio. From her first lessons, “the dream never wavered,” she says.
At 16, she began training privately in Vaganova technique with Nadia Pavlenko, a graduate of the Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg. “With my parents’ permission, I also shifted to home-schooling at night so that I could train more intensively – eight hours a day, six days a week,” she says.
Although she received offers from studio companies of American Ballet Theatre and Washington Ballet and from the Hamburg Ballet School, Katherine chose to continue training with Pavlenko. Then, at 18, she was offered a position with Ballet Manila. “So, I left home and moved halfway around the world to start my professional career,” she says.
Developing as a professional
Katherine is in her third season as principal with Ballet Manila. Her artistic development has been fostered by the company’s artistic director, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, whom Katherine calls “the country’s prima ballerina. She was also the first Filipina to graduate from the Vaganova school and became the first foreign soloist of the Kirov Ballet,” she adds.
Macuja-Elizalde “became my mentor right from the start,” Katherine says, coaching her for debuts as Giselle, Kitri, Aurora, Nikiya and Odette/Odile, in commissioned contemporary works, and in premieres of Macuja-Elizalde’s own choreography of Cinderella and Snow White.
“I am constantly inspired by her, both in and out of the studio,” Katherine says. “She is an incredible coach and helps me improve as a dancer every day. But mostly, I admire her for her generous heart and courageous spirit. She is a passionate and selfless artist whom I strive to be like, both on stage and off.”
Technique, artistry and performance
“I am always striving to reach new and higher levels” of technical expertise, Katherine says. “It’s a constant process. Everything I am able to do is achieved only through sheer hard work.” She is currently working on making her jumps “higher, lighter and more organic,” and she continually focuses on how she uses her arms and head. “My favorite things to work on are turns of all kinds,” she adds. “These I could spend hours repeating and practicing!”
Devotion to technical improvement goes hand in hand with devotion to artistry. “I could always improve my technique but the true essence of dance is to connect and communicate with an audience,” Katherine says, “to become the character and share the light of one’s soul with all who are watching.” She calls the stage “a true gift. When I am performing, I can feel my soul light up!”
One of her most memorable individual performances was Don Quixote with Kremlin Ballet principal Mikhail Martynyuk. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had on stage, and what made me happier was knowing that the audience enjoyed it as much as I did,” she says.
Katherine’s Russian Pointes
After wearing Almaz for seven years, Katherine discovered that Rubin was her “best fit” after an online fitting with a Russian Pointe specialist. She chooses the V-cut Rubin and customizes the vamp. “I sew cross-stitches across the vamp to make the fit more exact than with a drawstring,” she explains.
“What I love about Russian Pointe shoes is their ability to be flexible yet stable,” Katherine says. “The hard shank lasts me for quite a while despite such a heavy repertoire of dancing. I like that RP fits the shape of my foot and works with me, not for me, as I dance. Russian Pointe allows great mobility to roll through the shoe, allowing quality footwork. [And] I find that they accent my natural arch, while providing stability to balance and turn. I can always trust my shoes on stage or in the studio – they have become like second feet.”
About Katherine Barkman
Katherine Barkman grew up in Pennsylvania, started studying dance at age three, and trained extensively as a pre-professional with Vaganova Academy graduate Nadia Pavlenko. In 2014, she was awarded the gold medal (classical) in the Philadelphia YAGP and participated as a finalist in New York City. The next year, she received the gold medal for classical variations and bronze medal for contemporary at Tanzolymp in Berlin, gold medal at the Valentina Kozlova IBC in New Orleans, and bronze medal at the Concorso Internazionale di Danza in Spoleto, Italy. After joining Ballet Manila in 2015, she won the Grand Prix at the Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong as well as a silver medal for pas de deux. Since 2016, she has also participated as a guest principal artist in international festivals and productions in Latvia, Hong Kong, Canada, the United States and Russia.