Jonathan Khoury : There truly is some world class ballet going on here


I was on my way to meet Jonathan Khoury from Blue Silk Travel Company, the US Representatives of Mongolia’s State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. Blue Silk has been the first to organise an exchange between the highly regarded American Ballet Theatre (ABT) and the State Academic with Sascha Radetsky flying to Mongolia to perform in Giselle.

Sascha is a prominent figure in the world of ballet; at the age of 15 he was invited to study at the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow. He moved onto study at the American Ballet Theatre’s School of Classical Ballet and has danced with troupes all over the world. Having been a soloist with the ABT since 2003 he has gained international fame by starring as Charlie in Columbia Pictures’ Center Stage. He also appeared in numerous TV shows, movies and commercials whilst writing for leading U.S magazines.

I am ashamed to say that I had never been in the theatre before and as I met Jonathan in the hall I was instantly impressed; lights shone from the theatre itself, filtering through the pillars across the stone floors, highlighting staircases and endless corridors. The interview took place in a grand room with beautiful voices from the rehearsing opera surrounded us as we spoke.

-Thank you for taking the time out to meet me, you said on the way in that you actually lived in Ulan Bator, have you noticed many changes on your return?

- I haven’t been here for some time and it’s grown a lot, there are a lot of new buildings now. I’ve noticed small things, such as you used to see everyone on the street text messaging but now it seems everyone is talking on the phone.The streets were always jammed with cars but now in addition to all the cars on the street there are many in car parks too! There are new products in the stores and a change in what people are buying. Now that I live in America and come back periodically, I can see that the city is growing so fast.  From 2004 to 2009 I found the change to be constant.

-Obviously this is an important period for the theatre, what with it being its 50th season and the first ever exchange between the two companies. Did you plan for the two to coincide?

-We had been hoping to bring someone over here, but I guess it was more of an added incentive that this was the 50th anniversary. I don’t know if you heard, but a couple of weeks ago the Bolshoi from Moscow sent ten dancers here to perform for Moscow friendship day. It worked out really nicely that both of these events, though organised separately, both fell in time for the 50th season.

-Despite Mongolia’s relationship with Russia and its obvious passion for ballet, including sending dancers over to train, I get the impression that generally it’s overlooked as a destination for tours. Do you believe this to be the case, if so why?

- There is truly world class ballet going on here. In the past Mongolia did used to send dancers over to Russia but after the fall of communism that stopped and many dancers were trained in Ulan Bator.  However now there are once again some Mongolia dancers that are starting to study in Russia and that relationship has opened up once more.

You are right though, it’s a side of Mongolia that most foreigners have never thought of, so as a travel company we’re bringing Americans to travel to Mongolia and show them the culture. Many Americans don’treally know about Mongolia’s culture of fine art so we feel that bringing Sascha Radetsky here is a great service to the country. He is a world class performer and probably the most prominent American artist ever to perform hereso we’re hoping this will raise the profile of Mongolia as a fine arts destination. We’re also excited that one of the leading ballet blogs called Haglund’s Heel have covered Sascha’s visit, so we’re excited that it’s also getting noticed in America.

-Sascha Radetsky’s visit is historic in a way, what with the 50th anniversary and the fact it hasn’t happened before; it could be the start of a new relationship. Do you think it has the potential to have an effect on Ulan Bator’s reputation for ballet?

- I think it does. It took us some time communicating with him and inviting Sascha here because at first both Sascha and his manager didn’t even know about Mongolian ballet. But now everyone at ABT knows that there is a ballet and their colleague will be dancing here and now they’re all eager to see who will be next to fly out here, it’s ground-breaking now.  Obviously by him being in Ulan Bator, everyone at ABT knows that there is a ballet in Mongolia and it is of a calibre where American dancers are invited to perform.

-With this in mind do you think eventually there would be an opportunity for Mongolian dancers to travel to America?

-That is definitely the next step!  We don’t have a firm commitment but we’re definitely thinking about ways in which we can do that. I know the [State Academic] ballet is actually sending a group of performers to China, so there have been some international exchanges but I think it would be a first for some dancers to come to the United States.

-Sascha will be performing in Giselle, which is a highly regarded piece of ballet, are there any particular reasons why this piece was chosen?

- Actually Giselle is one of the most popular dances here and it is often performed. We wanted one that was familiar to Mongolian audiences but something that Sascha is also familiar with so we could merge the two. He will be playing the lead male role of Albrecht, actually for two years he performed at the Dutch National Ballet and he often played that role there. In America he actually played various roles within Giselle, so it’s something he is familiar with. We wanted a dance in which both sides had a lot of experience and they could come together smoothly.  When you’re bringing someone to a new country you have a choice, we could have had a night of either Sascha performing solo or dancing with the whole ballet, which is something that we really wanted. We definitely wanted something with an interaction and with an exchange going on, so we felt that this particular dance would work well.

-Finally are there any tickets left for the two performances and what are the prices?

There are still seats available for both days at the moment, but tickets are selling quickly. Prices vary from 40,000 to 120,000 MNT and can be purchased from the box office.

-Thank you for your time, I am truly looking forward to the performance and to seeing Sascha dance with the Mongolian ballet.

-If you are interested in watching Sascha perform in Giselle then there will be two performances. One on Friday the 16th at 19:00 and one on Sunday the 18th at 17:00. Don’t miss out on this historic piece of ballet, it’s sure to be beautiful.




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