“I wish to connect with humanity through the joy of Dance…”
Following the first intermission (of The Washington Ballet’s Balanchine + Ashton), Katherine Barkman and guest artist Marcelo Gomes danced Ashton’s Méditation from Thaïs. From beginning to end I was enchanted. Gomes and Barkman paired perfectly together. Although he’s a consummate veteran, and she, a relative newcomer, I discerned no difference in ability between them. To the contrary, they melted together as one and absolutely convincingly conveyed their love. Gomes and Barkman oozed expression through every inch of their bodies. As they stretched, even their fingertips unfurled simultaneously, and when they embraced, sparks flew. Barkman balanced atop Gomes’s back like a mermaid and snaked around like the filmy scarf she used to sometimes cover her face. When Gomes traced the outline of her body, desire plainly erupted. The exquisite artistry made my heart ache, in a good way, and a number of audience members immediately leapt to their feet when Barkman and Gomes left the stage. I’ll not soon forget that extraordinary performance.
One beautifully detailed scene after another, masses of sumptuous costumes and a breakout, starmaking showcase for dazzling new company member Katherine Barkman: The Washington Ballet’s first production of The Sleeping Beauty is every bit the show of refinement it was destined to be… Barkman…who joined the company last fall, is a jewel of a ballerina, with her pure, effortless technique and easy charm. It’s said that when the great British ballerina Margot Fonteyn danced Aurora in New York in 1949, leading the modest yet spunky precursor to the Royal Ballet, she solidified the entire reputation of English ballet with her miraculous balances. Without drawing a direct comparison to that moment and that legend, let’s just say that Barkman is similarly dark-eyed and petite, with a clean, classical line to her body. But most of all it is her ebullient warmth, buoyed by fluid skill and an utter absence of affectation, that brings greatness to mind.
One thing (Julie) Kent (artistic director of The Washington Ballet) probably doesn’t have to worry about is having a star on board whose talent and charm will draw an audience. Kent definitely has that now with the recent addition of petite powerhouse Katherine Barkman, a 22-year-old… who is picture perfect in roles like Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty. Due to her age, Barkman doesn’t need to act to seem young. Yet her acting is impeccable. As Princess Aurora, she displayed just the right combination of sweetness, fortitude, and joy. Beyond her appealing demeanor, there’s her dancing, and it’s astounding. Barkman sparkles not only in her expression, but in her beautiful, well-executed technique. What makes her special, besides being so accomplished at such a young age, is her spirit and stamina. Whenever I’m introduced to a new ballerina, I’m nervous — I wonder if her turns will be sharp and stable, her balances strong. Watching Barkman, my worries quickly evaporated. I’ve rarely seen a dancer so rock solid standing unassisted on pointe. One leg aloft, the other rooted to the stage, she calmly and repeatedly extended a delicate arm into the air in triumph. Even more amazing, on opening night Barkman beamed naturally as she slayed the most difficult moves, broadcasting not only ballet mastery but sheer bliss. She looked eager to show off her skills without coming across as overdoing it.
As Odette (in Ballet Manila’s Swan Lake), the Swan Queen, 20-year-old (Katherine) Barkman highlighted her natural lyricism with elastic phrasing, expressive thrusting of the shoulders, and fluid arms that contrasted the sharp kicks. She made the music ooze out of her sinewy muscles. Every gesture had an intent that made the audience empathize with her haunted fragility. Taking on Odile, the alluring Black Swan and Odette’s impostor, Barkman established her character’s predatory nature by using her eyes to seduce Prince Siegfried. The most anticipated part in the Black Swan pas de deux is the 32 fouettés—the storm of 32 whipped turns… Most ballerinas doing Odile lash out fouettés just to service the choreography. Instead of brandishing bravura, Barkman attempted to make all the difficult turns in this section as dramatic ploys to mesmerize the Prince. The first half of her fouetté series was a tirade of single and double pirouettes to taunt the Prince. In the second half, she wisely focused on staying with the music.