Too-tall ballerina finds a new job with a company that highlights diversity

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Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Sara Michelle Murawski will be dancing next season for the American National Ballet in Charleston, S.C.

Sara Michelle Murawski, the ballerina fired from the Pennsylvania Ballet in December because she was too tall, has been hired by a new company -- one that plans to highlight diversity.

The American National Ballet will open its first season in the fall in Charleston, S.C., and Murawski was its first dancer announced.

The Pennsylvania Ballet had notified her on the day after her final performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy that she was not being kept on here. Her contract runs out in May.

She will join the Charleston company for the 2017-18 season as a principal dancer.

“They want to do a lot of different [things and be] more supportive of dancers,” Murawski said about American National Ballet, “so that we will have a better lifestyle and standard of living than most of the dancers everywhere do. And the thinking behind that is so that we will be inspired to the highest level we can attain.”

American National Ballet executive director Ashley Benefield, who is 5’9”, said she felt empathy with Murawski, who is 5’10”.

Camera icon ©GENE SCHIAVONE
Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Sara Michelle Murawski.

“I was also a tall dancer,” said Benefield. “I dealt with literally the exact same thing in my career, and it was really hard.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” she said. “Balanchine had it right: Tall, leggy dancers can be absolutely stunning, and Sara really is. We can showcase what America is really about: diversity, a melting pot.”

Though American companies tend to expect everyone to be of a similar height and look, Benefield said she’s found inspiration in Europe, where companies accept  variety. Instead of a certain look, she said, she’s interested in “the talent and beauty of the dancer.”

Murawski has also found new fans elsewhere since December. New York City Ballet principal dancer Ask La Cour selected her to dance a pas de deux he choreographed for a gala in Florida. Their piece, “Into Silence” was to a score by Jane Antonia Cornish, and a video of it will be included on Cornish’s forthcoming album.

At the American National Ballet, Benefield expects to soon announce the dancers who will join Murawski, as well as the repertoire they’ll be dancing under the artistic direction of Octavio Martin, a former principal dancer with the Cuban National Ballet who defected to the United States 10 years ago.

Murawski was one of her dream hires. “We’ve actually been following her for a long time,” Benefield said. “I’ve had my eye on her for years. She’s stunning.

“Sara is a beautiful artist, has gorgeous lines, and is a world-class athlete. But one of the most important things about her: She’s just a beautiful person inside and out.”

The feeling is mutual, Murawski said. “I love that they want diversity and acceptance across whatever differences people have. They see that as an asset. And they are very creative and innovative. They have big and exciting ideas.

“I hope that there will be many dancers who have an artist soul and maybe haven't been treated as kindly as they should be who will come and join this very compassionate company.”