10 things you need to know about julian mackay

Meet the only Montana boy in Moscow.

by Matthew Whitehouse
08 August 2016, 11:35pm

Teresa MacKay tells a story in which she remembers arriving back in Montana following a stay in Moscow. "Oh, you mean Moscow in Idaho?" came the inquiry from a neighbour. "No," she replied. "Moscow, Moscow." Not only was her son - Julian MacKay - the first ever Montana native to attend Russia's prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy, he was, at 17, the first ever American to graduate from both its upper and lower schools. Pretty good for the smalltown boy who grew up knowing more about chickens than he did Swan Lake.

"I graduated from school in Moscow last July and in August I joined the Royal Ballet in London, I worked there until about the middle of April, then I went to Saint Petersburg," describes Julian, now 18, of the journey that has lead him to become the youngest soloist at the city's esteemed Mikhailovsky Theatre. "We just had our last show about two weeks ago so now it's break time."

Not that break time really is break time for someone used to six day weeks, eight o'clock starts and rigorous barre work that becomes as routine as brushing your teeth: "I'm really excited because I have some acting things coming up, more modelling things," says the recent IMG London signing. "Dance is communicating and the more ways you can find to do that, the better." Here are 10 things you need to know about the boy with the world at his (turned out) feet…

1. He first started dancing when he was about two and a half…
"Mom and Dad never did any ballet or dancing - my dad has flat feet and my mom worked in fashion - but my two older sisters kind of started the trend. One day, my mom saw me tap dancing on the driveway and was, like, 'Oh, no, I've got another one'."

2. He was spotted when he won a medal at the Youth America Grand Prix..
"I went to New York for the finals and some teachers from the Bolshoi saw me and invited me there. It was a kind of a guinea pig experiment. They didn't really invite anyone so young and they didn't invite foreigners... I'd told my mom I was coming for six weeks and it turned out we stayed for six years.

3. Thankfully, he loves an adventure...
"When I was little, me and brother would always sword fight outside, run through the woods, play in the snow. So going to Moscow was kind of the same thing for me. The first time I went there was a ton of snow. I was eleven. And it was really foreign and kind of scary in a way. But I loved the challenge and I really wanted to conquer it.

4. It took him about a year to really become fluent in the language...
"Russian is the kind of language where the first things you learn are the swear words. Because there are a lot of them. You can be very creative. But it took me about a year to really learn everything. The greatest thing was that my classmates really accepted me, because I came so young. I just became one of the kids."

5. Of course, being one of the kids is not without its hazards….
"I went to the infirmary because I hit myself in the face with a yoyo before ballet class. There were trends going round school. One year was techno dancing and the next was yoyos... This is a ballet school but we still played football in our free time when we weren't supposed to, still rode skateboards around. I actually love to skateboard and I'm kind of good at football. I can juggle. Ballet school taught me a lot of things."

6. He's up for a challenge...
"When I went to the Bolshoi, I didn't get a perfect grade. I wasn't perfect ability wise. There were definitely kids that were stronger or more prepared. I was this little bit chubby, American coming to this school, definitely wanting to learn but not really sure what he was in store for. And that's what I love the most. Learning the language, falling in love with the history that was around me… And the fact that I could change myself so much by devoting myself to the rigorous training and this artform."

7. For him, modelling and acting are just another way of communicating with people.…
"Amazing performers, when they perform on stage, they have a certain connection with the audience, where they're on the edge of their seat or they gasp when they come on stage… I want to see what the possibilities are."

8. He believes that art has no boundaries…
"No matter who you are or where you are, it's always relatable. Even if it's a Russian choreographer and you're dancing in the U.S. and the audience member is Asian. It's understandable everywhere because it's movement. Nowadays, with all the political tension and things going on in the world, it's really important to remember the way that people stay together and connect with each other is through art."

9. He dances for others, not himself...
To put in all these years of training and then just dance for yourself… There was this one time when my mom couldn't get into a performance. And for me, it's the kind of thing where if my mom or somebody else can't come and see me, why am I dancing? To put in all the time and all the thought… It's to show people. To give them that joy or sadness or distraction.

10. His advice for other young dancers would be...
"It's cheesy to say 'don't give up'. But what I mean by that is don't let people say that you can't do it. Because I've had that a lot, where it's like, 'Only you think you're good'. But in reality, if you don't think you're good or you don't think you can do it, then you really can't do it. No matter how many other people who support you and tell you you can, it's really self belief. To the point of almost fantasy. Because the more you believe in yourself and the more you chase your dreams, the more they become reality."

Related: Sergei Polunin, the bad boy of ballet


Photography Lily Rose Thomas

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