05/03/1993 at 01:00 AM EDT
Seven years ago, when budding ballerina Julie Kent, then 16, bellied up to the barre to audition for New York City's American Ballet Theatre, she had no great, expectations of being plucked from the leotard-clad crowd. But then-ABT director Mikhail Baryshnikov took one look at the lithe, long-stemmed dancer from Bethesda, Md., and immediately recruited her for the corps de ballet. "I was absolutely mesmerized by her looks," he said. "She has an extraordinary face." And amazing grace. Kent, 23, now an ABT soloist, even pirouetted off with a first prize in the prestigious Erik Bruhn competition in Toronto last March. The critics have tossed their own bouquets, among them "poised," "resilient," "meltingly lovely."
The 5'6", 105-lb. Kent shares a Manhattan apartment with an American Eskimo dog named Frosty and spends time between rehearsals with boyfriend Victor Barbee, 38, an ABT principal. She has no immediate plans for a more permanent pas de deux. "I don't want to wonder why I'm changing diapers if I could dance instead," she says. "I need to be ready for a major turn."