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Kieran Macdonald: Following His Own Yellow Brick Road to The Jellicle Ball

Kieran Macdonald: Following His Own Yellow Brick Road to The Jellicle Ball

Breakaway Magazine
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Editor-In-Chief: Jamee Beth Livingston
  • Photography: Mati Ficara & Matthew Murphy

The classic line “There’s no place like home” highlights the essential lesson of rediscovering our true selves, as depicted in one of the most esteemed stories of all time. The journey to discover yourself and what home means to you, has a place in all of our hearts. Similar to the transformation in the movie The Wizard of Oz, where it shifted from black and white to vibrant colors, each one of us possesses our own unique hues just like the talented dancer Kieran Macdonald. “I remember running around the house with a broom in my hand and a long blanket as a cape pretending I was the Wicked Witch of the West!” The film ignited an artistic spark inside Kieran, and since then it has only grown brighter and stronger. 

Unlike many who begin training from a very young age, Kieran did not start dancing until later in life, much like the renowned ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. This unconventional entry into the art form sets them apart and highlights the diverse paths that can lead to a career in dance. Both Kieran and Rudolf built themselves up as dancers, learning and seizing opportunities presented by their natural talent. They also faced similar hardships, such as being bullied in school, experiencing periods of hunger and leaving their homeland to pursue their passion.

Kieran was born in Paisley, Scotland, and his family moved to Spruce Grove, Alberta in 2006, when he was eight years old. There, he knew his desire to dance was real. Pursuing this dream came with a few sets of struggles because no dream has ever evolved without some trials along the way or “flying monkeys” to sabotage and thwart someone’s journey. Just as Dorothy was caught in the tension between her true nature and who she thought she needed to be to meet others’ expectations, so was Kieran. “I was bullied many times in school because, while all the boys signed up for sports, I was the only one who decided to take dance lessons.” He tried sports to “fit in” with a boring and predictable stereotype without much to offer. In the end, he always knew that dance was his thing and what he wanted to do. 

Kieran Macdonald for Breakaway Magazine.

Free of labels and prejudices, he began to pursue his ambitions. During his early teens he decided to attend Shelley’s Dance Company under the direction of Shelley Tookey. Shelley became his mentor upon seeing his natural talent. He was gifted, and she decided to give him that “push” as he trained under her. This was the moment that defined him as an aspirant dancer. Under her mentorship, he breathed and lived only for dance. He received top scholarships from the Victoria School Foundation for the Arts and earned distinction in Advanced 1 Ballet from the Royal Academy of Dance. Anyone who saw a single movement of Kieran’s journey could realize the immense passion for dance that ran through his veins. Like any artist, in every piece he danced, he left a piece of himself in it.

Over the Rainbow

After a lot of hard work, Kieran booked his first professional job in 2016 performing alongside best-selling recording artist, Alessia Cara. Not long after, he found himself sharing a stage with singer Shawn Hook, and he knew it was time to continue moving forward. In 2018, his golden path led him to the city of Los Angeles, where he would encounter new obstacles. At times, difficult choices had to be made, such as sacrificing basic necessities like food for the sake of affording dance tuition.

Although this harsh situation might have mitigated his efforts or made him doubt whether he had done the right thing, the spark that had been ignited in him as a child now shone brighter than ever. It was no longer a spark, but a flare. He had come too far to throw in the towel. With an unwavering commitment to materializing this vision, the path of dance was chosen time and again, day after day, month after month, without faltering.

Things changed the next year, as he landed his first professional job in the United States working on the Gucci Showtime: The Spring Summer Campaign. “For me, the experience of cameras, lights and makeup felt like something from out of this world…I was living my dream!” After another hurdle posed by the pandemic, he went on to work and tour with NUVO and 24 Seven Dance Convention. As the principal and lead assistant to NUVO’s and 24 Seven’s world-renowned choreographers, he teaches dance students, collaborates with choreographers to create movement and serves as a judge when necessary.

Invitation to the Jellicle Ball

Kieran’s dedication and talent paved the way for him to embark on his next extraordinary adventure, leaving an indelible mark on audiences from coast to coast. He recently toured across North America, Canada and Mexico on the Broadway National Tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. During his two years with the musical, over 900,000 tickets were sold. This extensive tour, spanning multiple countries and regions, provided him with a valuable opportunity to showcase his talents on a grand scale and gain invaluable experience in the world of professional theatre. The tour features choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, recipient of the 2018 Kennedy Center Honors for his work on Hamilton, for which he also won a Tony and an Olivier Award.

Cats ensemble for Breakaway Magazine.

It was Kieran’s dream to appear in Cats ever since witnessing its magic unfold in the 1998 VHS tape. As the Dance Captain and Swing, he not only had the opportunity to showcase his exceptional dancing abilities but also to understudy the pivotal role of Mistoffelees, a character deeply rooted in the hearts of fans worldwide. Having nurtured a lifelong passion for this beloved production since childhood, Kieran’s involvement in the tour undoubtedly marked the culmination of his dreams. “The chance to bring the captivating world of Cats to life on stages around the world has been an exhilarating and profoundly rewarding experience.”

At its core, the musical is about accepting one another despite our differences. Cats, just like The Wizard of Oz, is a story about finding acceptance and love despite our differences. In the land of Oz, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion were all searching for something they thought they lacked: a brain, a heart and courage. But in the end, they realized that they had these qualities all along and just needed to believe in themselves. Similarly, the cats are also searching for something: their purpose and place in society. Each cat has their own unique personality and talents that make them special, but they often feel like outcasts because of their differences. However, through The Jellicle Ball and Old Deuteronomy’s wisdom, they come to accept themselves and each other.

Cats ensemble for Breakaway Magazine.

Just like how Dorothy found her way back home by embracing her friends’ unique qualities and strengths rather than seeking an external solution from The Wizard, the cats find true happiness by accepting themselves as they are and embracing each other’s individuality. Through songs like “The Rum Tum Tugger” and “Mr. Mistoffelees,” we see how even the most flamboyant or unconventional cats are loved and celebrated within The Jellicle tribe. The Jellicle Ball itself is a celebration of diversity as each cat performs their unique talent without judgment or comparison.

The lesson from Cats, The Wizard of Oz and Kieran’s story is to stop trying to be the person you think everyone expects you to be, and simply be who you are. Leave the metaphorical curtain drawn so that our true selves can prosper. Kieran chose to see setbacks as a leap of freedom to which he held on, until becoming what he is today. Remember that opposing forces may try and disrupt your path. Stay the course, trust in the path you have chosen and follow it to victory. Your opponents will constantly try to make you walk on their path. This will probably be the hardest test in your journey, but by staying on the yellow brick road Dorothy finds her way to The Wizard and eventually, home. As long as you believe in yourself, you will be able to find and follow your own yellow brick road where anything is possible. 

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” 

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