Photo by Stas Levshin. Courtesy Mackay.

Julian MacKay: From Montana to the Mikhailovsky—and Beyond

Julian MacKay was born to be a pioneer. Growing up amid bison and hot springs in Montana, he developed a sense of adventure that came in handy when, at age 11, he entered the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.

"It was this guinea-pig experiment," the Bozeman native remembers. "No American had ever gone so young." In 2015 he became the first American to graduate from the school with a full Russian diploma, having completed the lower and upper ballet division—at the top of his class—and passed all his academics in Russian, which he had learned to speak fluently within his first year.

Then in May 2016, MacKay became the youngest-ever soloist at the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. He soon debuted as the slave in Le Corsaire, the Bronze Idol in La Bayadère and James in La Sylphide, roles that showcased his clean technique and lofty jumps.


"I've had the opportunity to do so much, so quickly," says the appreciative MacKay, who at 19 feels a keen urgency. "The career is quite short. If you have things you want to achieve, you have to go for them as soon as possible."

MacKay got an early start in ballet, alongside his younger brother, Nicholas MacKay, and older sisters, Maria Sascha Khan and Nadia Khan, all of whom were dance-obsessed since childhood. MacKay received his early training in Montana, and following a bronze-medal win at Youth America Grand Prix, Bolshoi Academy teachers invited him to join the school. Before he went, he moved to San Diego to study with former Bolshoi dancer Maxim Tchernychev.

Photo by Stas Levshin

Russia was an opportunity MacKay couldn't pass up, daunting as it was to move halfway around the world to begin six years of extremely intense training. "I went through army boot-camp schooling," he says of the six-days-per-week program, which ranged from rigorous ballet technique to the Stanislavsky acting method.

MacKay's training helped him to win medals in Sochi, Istanbul, Paris and Beijing. The 2015 Prix de Lausanne, where he earned an apprentice scholarship to The Royal Ballet, helped define his goals. He took the apprenticeship, but as much as he admired the company and artistic director Kevin O'Hare, MacKay was not content in the corps.

At an audition in Hungary, Mikhailovsky director Mikhail Messerer offered MacKay a soloist position. MacKay was thrilled to return to Russia, where he's pursuing a Russian Ballet Master graduate degree while dancing. He also had his choreographic premiere with a new version of The Little Humpbacked Horse, at the Four Seasons St.Petersburg. It starred Nicholas, Maria Sascha and Nadia—all four siblings are currently dancing and training overseas.

MacKay's path is leading in non-dance directions, too. His charismatic good looks landed him a modeling contract with IMG and a photo shoot with Kendall Jenner for the avant-garde fashion magazine LOVE.

"I feel like I've won so many lottery tickets," he says. Luck plays a part in any career, but MacKay is forging his own path with talent, training and that adventurous spirit. "You can do anything," he says, "if you aspire to it and really push for it."

Fun Facts:

Russian food craving: Kholodets. "It's basically pieces of meat in Jell-O. It's pretty crazy, but kinda good."

Dream destinations: Siberia ("I want to see what it's like") and the South of France ("I love the beaches!")

Puppy love: "I'm teaching my French bulldog puppy, Leo, how to skateboard."

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Juha Mustonen, Courtesy Finnish National Ballet

Val Caniparoli Pulled Zoom All-Nighters For His Upcoming Premiere at Finnish National Ballet

Back in April, it seemed like everyone in the performing arts was either coping with company shutdowns or watching future work evaporate before their eyes. As seasons were canceled or pushed off into the unknown future, choreographer Val Caniparoli took a deep breath and focused on a glimmer of hope: Finnish National Ballet had commissioned him to develop a full-length Jekyll & Hyde, and was determined to move forward with its November world premiere. So, Caniparoli hunkered down in his apartment while honing his vision at all hours to build this psychological thriller into a reality.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre in "Thaïs Pas De Deux" (2008)

When Sir Frederick Ashton premiered Thaïs Pas de Deux, a duet set to the "Méditation" interlude from Jules Massenet's opera Thaïs, the ballet was immediately acclaimed as one of his masterpieces, despite the fact that it is only a few minutes long. In this clip from 2008, Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre, then principals of the Bavarian State Ballet, give a tender, enchanting performance that is six-and-a-half minutes of pure beauty.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks