Joined Ballet West in 2004, promoted to Demi-Soloist in 2005,
promoted to Soloist in 2007, promoted to Principal in 2011
How did you start ballet?
I was four. My mom put me in creative movement because I was dancing around the house a lot and she wanted me to focus my energy. I really liked it (dance class) and just kept taking ballet.
Was creative movement a class?
Mmm hmm. That was the youngest level class at the school I went to.
Was the school a ballet school?
Yeah, it was Connecticut Dance School. Well, that’s what it’s called now. The school changed it’s name a lot over time, but when I was a kid it was associated with Connecticut Ballet Theater. So, I got to work with a company from a young age.
Did you perform Nutcracker roles and things like that?
Mmm hmm. I got to go on tour a lot too. Starting when I was eight I went on tour with them all over Connecticut and Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I got to miss school too!
Every kids dream …
After creative movement, at what age did you start taking regular ballet classes?
I don’t know because the school was based around RAD (Royal Academy of Dance). So, I started taking RAD exams when I was five or six already. It was called creative movement but it was based in ballet so I didn’t really notice a change [in class].
So, creative movement was more like a pre-ballet class that young kids often take?
Did you train at the Connecticut Dance School until you got your first professional job?
No, I started going to summer programs when I was in eighth grade. I went to Harid (Harid Conservatory) for the summer and then I got into the school year program. I went there for the summer, in between my sophomore and junior year of high school, because I wanted to go for the school year. I got into the year around program [at Harid] and knew I wanted to go. It was kind of cool because my ballet teacher in Connecticut told my parents, “If Katherine is really serious about doing this as a career, I feel like she can’t get any more here. She needs to go somewhere more professional. Here we let anyone into the school and we try and give everyone equal opportunity. If she really wants to have this as her career, then she needs to go somewhere that she’s going to get more professional training.” That was really cool because I think there are a lot of teachers that wouldn’t be able to do that. So, he recommended a whole bunch of programs and I auditioned for all of them. That’s how I ended up at Harid. Then I was there for my junior and senior years of high school. After I graduated [from Harid] I went to Hartford Ballet’s summer program because they had offered me an apprenticeship. They wanted me to be there for the whole summer, but after that summer the director changed, and a lot of things happened with the company financially. So, they asked me to be in their BFA program instead and dance with the company while going to school. That’s what I ended up doing for a year until I burnt myself out. I was going to college and I was taking a whole course load. I was dancing with the company in almost every production they did. Then I was in the student company that they had as well, which was made up of students from the BFA program and students from the high school program, and I was doing work study … it was nuts. I got my first job after that year.
When kids are attending Harid or similar schools, away from home, what does their academic schooling entail?
The way it worked at Harid was that we went to public school for four classes in the morning. When everyone (all the students) was going to lunch, you got on the Harid bus and went back to Harid. We had lunch there and then technique class, pointe, variations, pas de deux, and rehearsals. And then also some lecture classes like dance history, music history, music theory, nutrition, kinesiology … stuff like that. You actually end up taking more classes than you take in normal high school.
Do you feel like those classes properly supplement the classes students miss in a regular high school?
I do … When I was going to Fairfield High, back in Connecticut, I was taking math, English, science, history, and elective classes. I also took French, Spanish, PE, and health. So, those classes, the elective classes, are the ones that you’re replacing. When I was at Harid (in the regular high school) I took AP English and my science classes and history and math. And then my PE was ballet [at Harid], and health [class] was nutrition [class]. You know, so you were still getting the aspects of a typical high school education. I really liked it because I was still going to a normal high school. It wasn’t as if you’re just with these thirty kids that are in the program with you for every waking hour of the day. You got to go interact with non-dancers, which I really liked. I heard that they’re not doing that anymore at Harid though. I think they have all their classes on campus now with just each other. I don’t think I could have done that because I made a lot of friends outside of Harid, which was great.
Was being away from home at that age difficult for you?
No … I loved being away from home. I don’t know, I guess I was just mature for my age. I was really ready to go somewhere else.
What’s your favorite thing about being a professional dancer?
I have a lot of favorite things. I’ve enjoyed dancing with my husband (Aaron Orlowski) and being able to travel a lot. I’ve gotten to go to a lot of places that I never would have otherwise gone to. Basically all the cool places I’ve been to I’ve been because of ballet. I danced with Universal Ballet, so I got to go to Korea. And I danced in China and Taiwan with my old company (Ballet International). Since I’ve been with Ballet West I’ve gone to Scotland, we’ve also dance in D.C. at the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap. And we’ve performed in New York. I feel like I’ve gotten to dance on all the big stages in the US, which is really cool. And then I like becoming someone else.
Yeah, like becoming a totally different person. I think that’s really cool. And I like the physical aspect of dancing too. Exerting yourself … it’s hard work. It’s not just mental; it’s mental and physical. I like that.
What’s the most difficult thing for you, being a professional dancer?
Ummm, I don’t know … when you have to do a ballet that you don’t like. When you have to really make yourself like something.
When dancing becomes work?
Yeah, when it’s something you’re not enjoying. That, and I think sometimes when you’re really sore it’s hard to make yourself be really on top of things. To push through…
This is your eighth season with Ballet West. What is your favorite thing about dancing for the company?
Well, Aaron and I were dancing in different companies for a while, so it used to be that we were here dancing together again, but that’s not the case anymore (Aaron retired after the 2009-2010 season), so … I don’t know, I like the people I work with, a lot. And I think that makes a big difference.
It’s interesting you say that because the company dancers have changed quite a bit since you’ve been here. Do you still like working with everyone that has replaced your old co-workers?
Yeah … yeah.
What’s your favorite role you’ve danced here at Ballet West?
Oh, I don’t know … I have a lot of favorites. I really like doing Odile (Swan Lake) because I like playing somebody evil (laughs). It’s fun to play characters that are kind of opposite your personality because I think it pushes you to do something different. And I also like how strong her character is (Odile).
Katherine, I’ve seen your frustrated side. That role may not be completely the opposite of you.
Yeah … no, I know (laugh).
You have to pull it from somewhere.
(laugh) Ummm, I also really enjoyed doing Ghost Dances (Christopher Bruce). That was my first season here. That was a really cool ballet. And I like Sinfionetta (Jiri Kylian) a lot. Oh, I really liked doing Trapped (Christopher Ruud) too. That really pushed me, which I liked.
Do you have any dream roles you’ve always wanted to perform?
I don’t know; I don’t feel like I have that one dream ballet. I don’t really think about it. I like getting to do new things a lot. I’d be ok if I didn’t do a lot of the roles I’ve done if we did those ballets again. But there are roles that I would like to do again too. I’d like to do Ghost Dances (Christopher Bruce) again. I think everybody would. It’s interesting, once you’ve done a role, being able to come back to it, especially if it’s really hard, knowing that you can get through it. So, you’re not just thinking about that (physicall difficulty), you’re thinking about the character.
Do you have a favorite Ballet West moment?
Ummm … I don’t know. I’m not good at favorites. I can’t make out just one thing. I like a lot of things. I really enjoyed the opportunities I got to perform with Aaron. It’s not something that most people get to experience in their jobs. Sharing what you love to do with the person that you love is really cool.
Ok, you’ve talked about Aaron a certain amount and that you’ve enjoyed dancing with him. When couples are cast as partners in a ballet, I never feel like they are disappointed to dance with each other. Although, couples often butt heads because they are so comfortable with each other. They’ll say things that …
You wouldn’t say to another partner …
Right. Then the partnership becomes a little tense. Did you ever feel that way with Aaron?
Oh yeah … I think that’s natural. You express your frustration more verbally then you would with someone else. Of course that happens … but I feel like we worked really well together. And when we did have moments like that, we would be able to recognize it really quickly and back off and be like, “I’m sorry.” You know, I think we were both extra aware of that so we didn’t let it happen.
It’s almost like you have to remind yourself constantly …
Would I say this to somebody else?
Exactly. So, what do you enjoy doing with your free time?
I like to read a lot. And I like cooking and baking a lot too. I cook dinner all the time. ‘Cause I like doing it …
Not because you’re a good wife?
(laugh) No … no, Aaron cooks too. We take turns.
I haven’t asked anyone about this yet, but I’m sure people are curious. Cross training for ballet dancers. Do you go to the gym?
Mmm hmmm …
How often to you go?
I usually go three times a week when we’re rehearsing. When we’re performing I usually don’t end up going that much. It depends on what we’re doing because ideally I don’t like to go work out at the gym until I’m done rehearsing for the day. ‘Cause then I’ll know how much I can push myself or not push myself. So, I usually go twice during the week and then once on the weekends.
Do you feel like your dancing would suffer if you didn’t cross train?
I started going to the gym right before we started rehearsing for Swan Lake a couple of years ago. Before that I had never done any serious cross training. I’d occasionally go for a bike ride or hiking, but I never did anything on a regular basis. [Since cross training], I’ve noticed a difference in my stamina and my muscle strength, especially now that I’m getting older. So, yeah, my dancing would definitely be effected if I weren’t doing it (cross training). And then in the summer I try to do more than I do while we’re dancing.
I bring up the subject because I don’t know if people realize how much dancers are constantly working on their bodies to be able to do their job well.
Yeah, and then at night you usually have to ice something or stretch.
Or else you’ll be in trouble the next day, right?
Mmm hmm …
What is your favorite message you’ve received from the insert of a fortune cookie?
(laugh) I don’t know … do you have another question?
Ok … If you could write a message on the insert from a fortune cookie, what would you write?
Oh no, this is even worse (laugh).
Katherine this is a creative question, you can say whatever you want.
(laugh) I know; I’m not good at those. Umm … Oh I do remember getting one one time about being studious. I was like, “That’s not a fortune.”
Was that your favorite one?
I thought it was weird.
My favorites are usually the weird ones. Who do you like the most, your mom or your dad?
I like them both for different reasons.
Ok … You’re not actually supposed to answer that question. So, you answered it correctly.
That was a joke question I added in …
Ok, good. What do you think was the real cause of the first world war in 1914?
Are you serious?
I am …
(two minute pause) I don’t know. Ummm … I can’t remember how world war one started. (laugh) Don’t put that in the thing!
It’s going in.
No it’s not.
Well, some say the assassination of Austria’s archbishop Franz Ferdinand (and his wife, I learned) domino effected events to lead to the war.
Ok, I do remember that. I think, uhhh, Austria just had a leader that wanted to take over the world … like Pinky and the Brain.
So, Austria had a leader that was into cartoons about two mice?
Mmm hmm … That wanted to take over the world.
I didn’t know that Pinky and the Brain has existed for that long.
I didn’t either.
That’s amazing. So, this is a lesson that cartoons influence everybody, even adults and leaders of countries.
And cause violence.