Flashback to a competition
It's been a year since Katherine Barkman was named the top winner at the Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong. But the Ballet Manila principal artist recalls the moment quite vividly, as if it had just happened yesterday. What she remembers most is that feeling of relief, happiness and gratitude that came over her all at once.
“All the frustration, tears, self-doubt, harsh criticism, sleepless nights, injuries and the hours and hours I spent working on my technique, researching my characters and fighting to improve each day – it all made sense in that moment and it was all worth it,” shares Katherine.
The petite and pretty ballerina became a crowd favorite early on at the AGP. Young fans who were also competing waited for her after her performances, seeking her autograph and having their photos taken with her. In the months since, Katherine has barely come up for air, fulfilling other cherished dreams such as dancing the full-length Romeo and Juliet and Giselle, and participating in the first-ever Dance.MNL showcase in the Philippines.
We catch up with Katherine just as she is leaving Manila to participate in the 17th Jurmala International Ballet Festival in Latvia, along with fellow principal artist Rudy De Dios. Come August 13, the pair is also headed to Hong Kong where they are dancing in the AGP Winners Gala. In this Q & A, Katherine reminisces about her AGP experience and looks ahead to the opening of Ballet Manila's 21st season.
Having joined international competitions before, what were your personal expectations when you entered the AGP?
For me, competitions have never been about comparing myself to others or striving for a medal. Competitions are simply a medium for sharing my art with as many people as possible. I went into AGP with this mindset. That I wasn't there competing but using my time on stage to give the audience the highest quality art I could produce, not just gymnastics and tricks in pointe shoes. I expected AGP would also help to strengthen me mentally and physically as a ballerina as I prepared to compete. I took it as a useful experience and opportunity to grow.
Can you describe for us briefly the week of the competition and how it was for you as the days progressed?
It was a pretty heavy schedule but I so enjoyed waking up each morning with the knowledge I would be able to perform and do what I love during the day! When the competition first began (Monday), I was already quite fatigued after the two gala performances of Flight. However I had so much fun dancing the Don Quixote pas de deux with my partner in the first round. The competition progressed into the semi-finals and I performed a variation from Grand Pas Classique, one of the hardest variations for me to dance. When I advanced to the finals, naturally, the pressure increased. It was so important for me to just stay focused and calm.
That Friday, I performed the whole Sleeping Beauty pas de deux and then after just a 20-minute break, I was back on stage dancing the Kitri variation for the solo round! That night was the awards gala where we found out the results. The following day was the gala of the stars where I performed both as the Grand Prix winner as well as a guest artist. It was an honor to share the stage with so many talented dancers. Inspiring and humbling. Despite the pressure, fatigue and unwavering concentration, I truly enjoyed being in the AGP.
What was the first thing that ran through your mind when you heard your name called out as the Grand Prix winner?
I didn't believe they would award me with a Grand Prix. However, when I heard my name called for the Grand Prix award, I felt all of the tension release in my achy muscles. The world seemed to freeze for a moment. I stood onstage, my eyes closed, thinking of all I went through to get to this moment. All the frustration, tears, self-doubt, harsh criticism, sleepless nights, injuries and the hours and hours I spent working on my technique, researching my characters and fighting to improve each day – it all made sense in that moment and it was all worth it. I thanked God for all the blessings He had given me. It was a moment I will cherish forever.
To whom or what would you attribute your success in the AGP?
There are so many people who have helped me and guided me towards this success. First, of course, is the incredibly high level training of Ballet Manila. Ma'am Lisa (Macuja-Elizalde) has truly taken me under her wing. I learn so much from her each day and enjoy each rehearsal I have with such an inspiring ballerina and artist. Also, Teacher Shaz (Osias Barroso) whom I spent so much time rehearsing with. Both of them have supported and believed in me and I am eternally grateful.
I also attribute my success to my teacher back home (in the US), Nadia Pavlenko, who trained me and created me as a dancer. Without her intense schooling, I would have never been able to join the Ballet Manila company. And of course, my ever supportive parents and little sister whom I miss everyday but hold in my heart and in each step I take on and off the stage. Lastly, I thank God for blessing me with so many wonderful people and for giving me the strength and courage to follow this dream.
What are you looking forward to about your upcoming trips to Latvia and to Hong Kong for the AGP? How about BM's new season opening on August 19?
I try to focus on one day at a time otherwise my schedule and repertoire can become overwhelming. I am very, very excited to have the opportunity to dance in Hong Kong and Latvia in galas with big stars of ballet. I love traveling. I think seeing the world and meeting new people is how we can grow as individuals. I take these performances as a blessing to be able to see the world while doing what I love. It is also a great experience to perform for other audiences. I am just working as hard as possible in the studio to bring my audiences the highest possible quality performance, technically and emotionally.
As for BM's season (called Revenge of the Classics), dancing the classics has always been my dream. The classics are the greatest challenge and I feel most fulfilled by them. I am excited to bring the audience the beauty of the classics. It will be a tremendous amount of work... and I couldn't be more excited about it.