By Richard Ecke
Great Falls Tribune
September 14, 2015
[Bozeman, Montana, USA] – Julian and Nicholas MacKay of Bozeman didn’t become accomplished ballet dancers by lounging around on a couch. Their work demands artistic interpretation, athletic prowess and continuous workouts and stretching to stem injuries. They push their bodies and limbs beyond the limits of comfort.
Julian, 17, has begun a year with the Royal Ballet company in London. He said in a Skype interview that he works out or practices until he gets a routine down pat. “I stay until it’s good,” Julian said. When he gets home to his apartment, he doesn’t really lounge. It’s more like a collapse. “You’re just lying there,” he said. “You can’t get up. Ballet is very physical. It’s almost gymnastic.”
Younger brother Nicholas, 14, has joined the Vaganova Academy ballet school in St. Petersburg, Russia. Dancing isn’t tough only on the toes, Nicholas pointed out. “Not just the feet, the whole body,” he said. “I have quite strong feet.” Yet it’s not a pain-free experience; feet get strained, and limbs ache. “You definitely have to love it,” Nicholas said.
He is enthralled by his new city in Russia. “It’s an amazing city,” Nicholas said of St. Petersburg in a telephone interview. “I love it. It feels European. So many museums. There’s so much history here.”
Nicholas and Julian, sons of Gregory and Teresa Khan MacKay of Bozeman, were pioneers as American male ballet students at the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow. Julian was the first American to attend the school to receive a full diploma, taking the same classes the Russian students did. Julian graduated in the spring.
Nicholas, who graduated from the Bolshoi Academy’s lower level in May after beginning school there at age 9, is a pioneer as well. “He’s the first American of his age ever accepted” at his new school, Gregory MacKay said. Nicholas traveled home briefly to Bozeman this summer, but Julian hasn’t been back to Bozeman for a year. “The boys have made history many times,” their father said. “I’m just kind of flabbergasted.”
“It’s quite a ride so far,” Julian said.
They’ve been assisted by generous sponsors from Big Sky, native Montanans Loren and Jill Bough, who have enabled the boys to pursue a dream of ballet stardom.
Nicholas said a fine Russian teacher suggested he try out for the academy in St. Petersburg; Nicholas was chosen after a highly competitive audition. Julian won a chance to perform with the ballet company in London by winning a competition in Switzerland, the Prix de Lausanne.
Julian is excited he will have a part as a Montague in “Romeo and Juliet,” as he will be able to swing a sword around. He took fencing when he was younger. Although the swords have blunt tips, they are heavy, so it pays to learn one’s moves to avoid an accident. A dancer wouldn’t get cut, but he could be pretty severely bruised by an errant sword.
“I get to be like a lord,” Julian said. “Some of the movements are quite complicated.”
He’s been in London about a month, but hasn’t done much sight-seeing. “I’m mainly in the studio (rehearsing),” Julian reported. The Royal Ballet has an amazing gym facility, says Julian, who added, “I’ve become much stronger. So far, it’s been a really great experience.”
Julian showed his mettle in August in China, where he finished third in an International Ballet and Choreography Competition featuring both Chinese and foreign dancers. “I was the only American to win a medal there,” he said. “I won third place, but the rest of the prizes went to Chinese dancers.”
He misses his mom and younger brother, who were all together in Moscow until the boys graduated.
Of his younger brother, Julian said graciously, “He’s definitely the most talented in the family.”
Both have had instances of deja vu in their new adventures in St. Petersburg and London.
When he was 10, Nicholas danced with members of the Mariinsky Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in July 2011. He played one of the boys on a train in “Anna Karenina.” “Some of the boys (from that production) are in my class,” Nicholas said. “I played chess with them on the train.”
For that performance, “they weren’t going to pay me very much,” Nicholas added. But he already had learned Russian, so “I ended up translating for costume people,” Nicholas said. “They actually paid me extra for translating.”
In London, a principal dancer in the Royal Ballet company is a Russian, Natalia Osipova. As a younger student at the Bolshoi Academy, Julian got to appear onstage with Osipova in a production, but he was more interested in his stage prop. “I was the one holding the goat next to her,” Julian said. “I didn’t realize that she was such a prima ballerina.”
All four children in the family have chosen to become classical dancers; stepsisters Maria Sascha Khan dances with the Ekaterinburg State Ballet and Nadia Khan dances in Madrid with the Compania Nacional de Danza. Theresa is happy with all the children’s dancing successes, but she especially admires their growth as people living in exotic climes. “They seem to be able to speak to anyone,” she said admiringly. The boys have picked up many foreign languages, including difficult ones such as Russian.
In London, dance veteran Julian said he’s comfortable performing before crowds in gilded halls from China to Switzerland to England. “It doesn’t really matter who’s sitting there (in the audience),” said a confident Julian. He paused, though, when asked if it would make a difference if Queen Elizabeth II of England were in the audience in London. “I think I’d be a little bit nervous,” Julian said with a chuckle.
Read more about Nicholas and Julian:
Young American at the Bolshoi: Julian MacKay wins Sochi and Istanbul medals (external link) 7-13-14
Dancing with the Khan-MacKay family 12/31/13
Young Dancer to Study at Bolshoi 10/2009