Meet the US-Born Dancer Rising the Ranks in Russia

Stas Levshin, Courtesy Mikhailovsky Ballet

At the age of 11, Julian MacKay gave up his life in rural Montana to move to Moscow and train full-time at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. It paid off: With Apollonian lines and bravura reserves of technique, the young dancer is now a versatile first soloist with St. Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Ballet, and brings an enterprising American spirit to his Russian life.

Company: Mikhailovsky Ballet
Age: 19
Hometown: Bozeman, Montana
Training: With Christine Austin in Montana, Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow
Accolades: 2015 Prix de Lausanne (Royal Ballet apprenticeship), 2015 Beijing International Ballet and Choreography Competition (bronze), 2014 Yuri Grigorovich Ballet Competition in Sochi (bronze), 2014 Istanbul International Ballet Competition (gold)

Stas Levshin, Courtesy Mikhailovsky Ballet. MacKay in The Flames of Paris

Russian gamble: MacKay was the first American to graduate from both the lower and upper schools of Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet Academy. He was invited to train there after a summer Bolshoi intensive in the U.S., and ended up staying six years. "I thrived on the constant challenge," he says. "I had to fit in both in the ballet sense and in the language sense."

Family affair: MacKay is far from the only dancer in his family: His two older half-sisters, Maria Sascha Khan and Nadia Khan, have danced with European and Russian ballet companies. Their mother moved to Moscow to support Julian, who was later joined at the Bolshoi Academy by his younger brother Nicholas MacKay. "That is definitely my secret to success: I wasn't there by myself," says MacKay.

"Julian has this wonderful Western self-control, mixed with a Russian understanding of musicality." —Mikhail Messerer

St. Petersburg calling: While auditioning for the Hungarian National Ballet, MacKay met Mikhailovsky ballet master in chief Mikhail Messerer, who was giving the class. Messerer later offered him a second soloist position in St. Petersburg, with principal roles on the horizon. "I couldn't turn him down. The more opportunities you have, the more you can grow as a dancer."

Youthful bravura: Messerer threw another challenge his way last winter, with the difficult, high-powered leading role in The Flames of Paris. After rising to the occasion, MacKay was promoted to first soloist. "He is startlingly handsome, and he has the ability to dance not only academic roles but also flashier ones," says Messerer, who will next cast MacKay as the Prince in another Soviet-era revival, Rostislav Zakharov's Cinderella.

Entrepreneurial ambition: Bolshoi Academy students graduate with a bachelor's, and MacKay has opted to pursue a master's degree at Moscow's Russian University of Theatre Arts (GITIS), which prepares dancers for roles as ballet masters and choreographers. He's already putting the choreography component of the course to good use: last year, he staged a family-friendly version of The LittleHumpbacked Horse in St. Petersburg, and took it to Montana this summer.

MacKay with siblings Maria Sascha Khan, Nadia Khan and Nicholas MacKay.

Show Comments ()
Alvin Ailey's life and groundbreaking work are coming to the big screen. Photo courtesy Ailey Archives.

There must be something in the water: Last week, we announced that Madonna is directing Michaela DePrince's upcoming biopic. And yesterday, we got wind of another major dance film: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Searchlight has sealed the deal to make Ailey Ailey's life and work into a movie. Yes, please.

While some movies falter along their way to the big screen, we think this one's got legs (and hopefully a whole lot of lateral T's and hinges and coccyx balances, too). Why?

Keep reading... Show less
John Heginbotham never walks into rehearsal unprepared. Photo by Janelle Jones, courtesy the Watermill Center

Back in 2012, after 14 years dancing with Mark Morris Dance Group, choreographer John Heginbotham ventured out on his own. Don't think of it as going solo, though.

Almost from the outset, Heginbotham has embarked on a series of fruitful collaborations with other artists, via his namesake company, Dance Heginbotham, and through a stream of independent projects. His creative partners have covered a range of talents and genres: illustrator Maira Kalman (in 2017's The Principles of Uncertainty), opera director Peter Sellars (for Girls of the Golden West, which debuted at San Francisco Opera in November), and contemporary-music luminaries such as Tyondai Braxton and Alarm Will Sound.

Here's What He Has To Say: About starting his company, his rehearsal process and why he's drawn to creative mash-ups.

Keep reading... Show less
What Dancers Eat
Pizza can be an excellent recovery meal after a hard day of class and rehearsal. Photo by Thinkstock

Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.

While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."

Some foods have less nutrition than others, admits Hogan, but if you're eating what you crave and honoring your hunger and fullness cues, she says you'll probably get the variety of nutrients your body needs. Here are seven foods that can have a place on your plate—guilt-free.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Via Instagram

When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.

"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Hugo Glendinning, Courtesy Sadler's Wells

Ten years is a long time for a dance production to run, but Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutra, an athletic, meditative spectacle featuring 19 Shaolin monks and a malleable set of 21 wooden boxes (designed by Antony Gormley) is still striking a chord with audiences worldwide. To celebrate the milestone, Sutra is returning to Sadler's Wells, where it all began. March 26–28. sadlerswells.com.

Dancers Trending
Irina Dvorovenko's latest role: Playing Elizaveta Grushinskaya in Grand Hotel at New York City Center. Photo by Joan Marcus, Courtesy New York City Center.

Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."

We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Photos via Instagram

When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.

But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.

An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.

"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Ballez class staples include no mirrors and barres arranged in a circle. Photo by Elyssa Goodman, Courtesy Pyle

A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.

Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Take your self-massage to the next level. Photo of TheraGun G2PRO via Amazon

The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.

Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.

Keep reading... Show less


Viral Videos



Get Dance Magazine in your inbox