By GAIL SCHONTZLER, Chronicle Staff Writer
Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Photograph by Sean Sperry
Monday, June 14, 2010
For 12-year-old Julian MacKay of Bozeman, the end of his school year has been pretty spectacular.
Julian is pursuing his dream to study ballet in Russia and just completed his first year in Moscow with the 237-year-old Bolshoi Ballet Academy. He did so well, he has been invited back for next school year.
Julian became the first American so young to perform with the professional Bolshoi Ballet Company last February, when he danced the part of a young page.
He was thrilled in May when he was one of about 40 dancers from the school’s 750 students selected to dance in the end-of-school-year performance. For that he earned a grade of 5 out of 5, said his proud dad, Greg MacKay, a Bozeman computer consultant. “They were so complimentary, it was sort of a shock to us,” Greg MacKay said. “They were so stern at the start of the year.”
To top it all off, Julian was featured on June 1, along with 15-year-old Joy Womack of Texas, in a New York Times report, “Young Americans Embrace Rigors of the Bolshoi.” The article described how Julian – “who not long ago was gathering eggs from a flock of chickens behind his home in Bozeman” – became one of a handful of Americans at the academy.
“I love it here!” Julian wrote afterward in answer to questions from Times readers. “When it gets really hard I say to myself, ‘Well you have come this far, you can’t give up now!'”
Last March, Julian talked from Moscow in a phone interview with the Bozeman Chronicle about the challenging Bolshoi Academy, where classes meet six days a week.”I wish it was seven,” Julian said, “because I love to dance.”
The Bolshoi Academy is great because it teaches boys to really leap, and that feels like flying, Julian said. “Jumping through the air is one of the funnest things you can do.”
Julian’s 9-year-old brother, Nicholas, also has been invited to the Bolshoi Academy next year for the first time.
Young Julian and Nicholas lived in Moscow with their mother, Teresa Khan MacKay, in a cramped Moscow apartment. Their dad, who went over to visit in January, said he has already seen changes in Julian.”It’s totally transformed him – he’s stronger and can jump higher,” Greg said.
The Times article described how tough and exacting the Russian ballet teachers are. Reporter Clifford Levy visited one of Julian’s classes with his ballet teacher, Olga Voynarovskaya, who “rattled off commands in Russian” to 10 boys in a mirrored studio.
“She lectured. She cajoled. She grimaced, wagged her finger and shook her head. She even slapped their limbs into place. ‘Misha, stand up,’ she said. ‘Ilya, don’t annoy me. Pull your ribs in. Are you sleeping?’ …
“She repeatedly pointed out Julian’s mistakes. While he was at the barre, she got down in front of him and repositioned his legs, shaping and pounding his thigh as if she were sculpting clay. Her finger impressions were visible on his skin. Afterward, she spoke warmly of Julian, saying that he had made significant progress….”
Julian later said he loves his teacher and was grateful, because he doesn’t want to end up a “mediocre dancer.”
“Thank you to my teacher Olga, who told me today how proud she is of me when I passed ballet exams in the top third of my class,” he wrote. “You can’t buy your teacher believing in you!”
The MacKay family was first drawn into the world of ballet by Julian’s older sister, Maria Sascha Kahn. At 21, she had danced three years with the Berlin State Ballet. Younger sister Nadia, 19, was a full scholarship student at the ballet school in Stuttgart, Germany.
Julian said he was 6 when he got excited seeing the “amazing” things his sisters could do and the spectacular leaps that male dancers perform. “I asked God where I should go for my ballet training,” Julian wrote, “and the next day I got my acceptance e-mail from the Bolshoi. That was it for me, I was going! My mom said NO WAY was she going to Russia, but after my parents talked for two days, they understood my heart was set.”
While it’s exciting to have two boys at the Bolshoi Academy, it has been hard on the middle-class MacKay family. The Times reported that though Russians study for free, foreigners pay $18,000 tuition a year, plus room and board. It’s like having two kids in private college, yet with no scholarships, student loans or financial aid.
“We’ve been struggling,” Greg MacKay said. “We’ve got mortgages on the house like you wouldn’t believe.” He added he hopes the national exposure may spark interest in a sponsorship.
School may be out for summer, but Julian’s ballet studies don’t stop. He and Nicholas both have scholarships to the Bolshoi Academy’s summer training program in Connecticut, run by the Russian-American Foundation. That’s where Russian teachers first noticed Julian at age 11.
The Times article is great because it lets other American dance students know that the Bolshoi Academy is a possibility, Julian’s dad said. “It opens doors other people can come through,” Greg MacKay said. “Obviously, the ballet world needs more boys.”
© Copyright 2010, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle