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Pennsylvania Ballet fires the Sugar Plum Fairy

Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Sara Michelle Murawski in "George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker."
Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Sara Michelle Murawski in "George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker."Read moreALEXANDER IZILIAEV

The day after dancing her final performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy in this season's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, Sara Michelle Murawski was fired as a principal dancer at the Pennsylvania Ballet because of her height.

In posts on Facebook and Instagram, Murawski said she was told Friday, backstage before performing the Arabian variation, that she was too tall to dance the roles planned for the 2017-18 season and that the company could not afford to keep her.

Dancers routinely work on one-year contracts and are notified in the winter whether theirs will be renewed. Murawski, like most dancers who are let go, must keep dancing with the company until the season ends in May.

"I came here with my deepest fear being that I wouldn't be wanted here or be rejected here in the States," Murawski said in a Facebook post, "and, of course my height, which I have always been self-conscious about."

Murawski, 25, who was born in Norfolk, Va., and who trained for several years in Philadelphia at the Rock School for Dance Education, came to the company from Slovakia in September as a replacement for one of the 19 dancers who were fired or left on their own after the 2015-16 season.

Announcing the sweeping changes to the roster last spring, artistic director Angel Corella said that he needed dancers who were of similar heights and that some of the women were too tall to dance with the company men. But then he hired Murawski, who is 5 feet, 11 inches — and several inches taller on pointe.

"I love and adore tall dancers, because I wasn't a tall dancer," Corella said in April before hiring Murawski. "My sister is a tall dancer. But we have to be realistic."

Corella was out of the country and could not be reached, but executive director David Gray released a statement, saying: "Building a world-class ballet company is similar to building a world-class sports team. Just as there are excellent athletes whose careers are better fulfilled at one team than another, there are excellent dancers who will better fulfill their potential at different companies.

"The sooner it becomes clear to the artistic director that a change will be coming at the end of the season, the sooner the impacted dancer can begin the audition process to find the place where they can thrive."

Murawski's relationship with the Pennsylvania Ballet was born on social media. She was a soloist with the Slovak National Ballet when Corella contacted her two and a half years ago on Facebook, saying he had admired videos of her dancing. A year later, he said he wanted to hire her as a principal dancer. The opportunity came after he was contractually allowed to shake up the roster in his third year on the job.

Murawski began her career at the Semperoper Ballet in Germany, turning to Europe because it is difficult for tall dancers — and others who don't fit the mold — to get ballet jobs in the United States.

But she came back when Corella offered her a position.

"This is the hardest thing in my life because I wanted to dance at home for so long," she said on Facebook. "I still want to dance for this beautiful city that I loved and lived in before and in this company, where I felt like I was becoming part of the family and loved my colleagues.