Batkhurel Bold, Principal Dancer, Pacific Northwest Ballet
A Million Plus One
by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin
In early December we met with Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) Principal Dancer Batkhurel Bold to talk about his dance journey from the Mongolian city of Ulan Bator to sunny Seattle, Washington. This is an edited transcription of that chat.
DS/FT: Seattle from Mongolia is quite a journey. Please tell us how you got started in ballet and how you to came to be at PNB.
BB: There are over one million people in the Mongolian capital city of Ulan Bator. Both my father and my mother were dancers in Mongolia’s only ballet company – my father for over 20 years. My mother, who is of Mongolian descent, is actually from St. Petersburg and attended the Vaganova School, where she studied with Dudinskaya. She was assigned to work in Mongolia after her graduation. Both were obligated to retire at age 38.
I was dragged to an audition. Schools audition on an 8-year cycle and I was in the last graduating class of Mongolian students. I entered the ballet school in Perm in 1988 and stayed 7 years, graduating in May 1995. One year early, but with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the changes in Russia and its former states, the money tap got cut off and “foreigners” who were in Russian schools were among the first to be affected.
I was only 9 when I got there – and the train ride from Ulan Bator took four days! – I spoke no Russian and my first year was very difficult. All the academic classes were held in Russian and we had a very heavy schedule which went from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. By age 11 I was “forcibly” fluent.
Perm is where the St. Petersburg school shifted during World War II and when it moved back some teachers stayed. It’s considered the third best in Russia. It’s really strict. Kids come from all over Russia and are there 11 months out of the year, with only one month off. Academics are from 8:30 to 10:30; ballet is 10:30 - 12:30 p.m. which includes a 30-minute barre and an hour and a half in the center. Lots of jumping. And only 8 boys in a class, so we got lots of attention. Then a one-hour lunch, followed by more academics from two to four and then more dancing from four until six. This would include character and/or acting, partnering, variations. Then more dancing in the evenings, typically from 6:30 p.m. until about 8:30 as we rehearsed for school performances. We rehearsed all year for the one school performance. We also had piano lessons and French lessons.
So what happened?
As I said, by the early ‘90s the economic situation had deteriorated considerably. I had wanted to go to either the Bolshoi or the Kirov and had performed the Corsaire variation at the Vaganova Prix. I was at loose ends after graduation. My father did not want me to come back to Mongolia as he thought the working conditions would be less than optimal.
I have a cousin who lives in D.C. one of whose parents used to be the Ambassador to the U.S. from Mongolia, and my parents borrowed what is a huge sum in Mongolia – $3K – from a cousin to get me to Washington. So, I visited D.C. and went to Mary Day who wanted me to spend a year in the school there and then give me a job. In 1996, PNB did a tour to Kennedy Center and there was a masterclass program and I went to this class but nothing happened out of it. However, I had a friend in PNB who asked to take company class. Francia was teaching and I have to admit I showed off a little bit and was offered a contract right there!
Tell us about your technique.
I don’t feel I was a finished product when I left school. I used to jump with weights – a sand belt – to improve my jumps. Teachers pushed us very hard. PNB has developed me considerably. Talent is talent and it needs to be developed every day.
What ballets and roles have you particularly enjoyed here at PNB?
I liked doing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, Melancholic in "Four Temperaments" – it has lots of bending and I had a wonderful time doing it. I was cast in movements two, three, and four of "Symphony in C" and the third movement is really fun – all jumping and allegro. Now, at "Nutcracker" time, I’m cast as a Moor, a Dervish, Stahlbaum and the Prince. Later this season, I’m looking forward to "Merry Widow," Glen Tetley’s "Rite of Spring" and "Apollo," although I don’t know yet if I’m to be cast in it.
I never ask for any parts as I totally trust Kent [Stowell] and Francia [Russell] to determine who looks good in which parts. I do wish they would have stayed [as Artistic Directors] longer, as they’ve been kind of like my second parents. I want to perform anything as a part of Kent and Francia’s last season I’ve spent three years here in the corps, 5 years as a soloist, and now I’m enjoying my new position as a principal.
I consider myself versatile in a company with a diverse repertoire. I like Forsythe and would like to do more Robbins, Nacho Duato, and someday be in "The Moor’s Pavane."
I recall seeing you with your mother not too long ago...
Yes. I sent my very first paycheck to them back home in Mongolia and still help out. My parents had a wonderful two weeks here in 1999 and my mother came for an extended stay a year ago. My father has since passed on. Life in Mongolia is hard and I’m about the only support for my mother. I hope to have my mother with me someday.
Do you see yourself someday as a teacher or have your ever taught?
Are you kidding? I can’t even give myself warmup! I think teaching requires a special talent and training and right now I want to focus on being a dancer.
What do you like to do outside of ballet?
I enjoy watching basketball, playing X-Box, and going to movies. I like Seattle and miss it when I’m not here!
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