Tien Chew learns what makes Nadia Khan and Maria Sascha Khan tick as great artistes and individuals, who have dedicated their lives in mastering the art of ballet.
My time with Maria Sascha Khan and Nadia Khan, grandaughters of Dato’ Sri Akbar Khan, started in the wee hours of a calm Wednesday morning. The sun was slowly creeping up over the horizon with the sky still awash in a sultry orange bluish tinge, suggesting a bright sunny day ahead of us.
The morning was made even more pleasant when both the beautiful ladies greeted me with broad smiles when I met them at their Kuala Lumpur home. After briefly exchanging pleasantries, I helped to load their assortment of clothes, tutus and accessories into the boot of my car before taking off to our destination, a shipping yard in Port Klang for our shoot.
With an hour to kill in the car, I thought I could ease the situation by asking them some icebreaker questions, all in an attempt to learn more about these esteemed ballerinas.
Born and raised in the mountainous state of Montana, USA, the Khan sisters grew up in a place abound with natural splendours, spending the better part of their childhood free from the influential reign of television and choosing to be involved in the great American outdoors. Having what they describe as an “amazing childhood”, they take it as a fortunate blessing that they have down to earth roots, as Nadia warns that it is easy to lose oneself to the temptation of superficial things in life.
“I definitely liked growing up in the mountains. We were always playing outside all the time and we didn’t have a television. I was still a girly girl and I was always in my dresses but I loved to play outside,” chuckles Nadia as she reminisced about her childhood.
Who would figure that a state commonly associated with cowboys, wildlife and famous daredevil Evel Knievel would be the home for these two lithe ballerinas.
While Mother Nature had a significant impact on the sisters’ early lives, the art of dancing was always present in their hearts as soon as they could move their feet.
“It was something that I knew since I was little. It wasn’t like a specific event that happened but I have always considered myself a dancer. A lot of kids think that they want to become ballerinas but I just assumed I was one ever since I was young,” says Nadia.
Her older sister on the other hand, also grew up with a burning passion for dance and she too started at a young age.
“I was always encouraged to be the best person that I could be. When I was young I started taking dance classes from a wonderful lady named Judith Younger Hertzens at the back of a barn but it wasn’t ballet,” recalls Maria Sascha.
As fate would have it, a group of former Bolshoi dancers were in town one summer and they visited the ballet school she was attending to conduct a master class for the students there, a 10-year-old Maria Sascha included.
After the class, Misha Tchoupakov, a dancer who is also an internationally renowned teacher, asked her if she would like to pursue a career in the world of professional ballet. Her response was that of a happily stupefied child as she replied “you mean I can do this for a living?”
This sparked her interest in ballet, and her desire to achieve her dreams and passion would also inspire her sister and brothers to follow in her footsteps, eventually leading to a family full of professional ballet dancers.
Maria Sascha got accepted into the Kirov Academy of Ballet when she was 14 and she was ready to leave home to begin her training in Washington DC.
A prestigious internationally recognised academy that would be the stepping-stone for the Khan sisters was too good of an opportunity for the then 11-year-old Nadia to pass up that she couldn’t resist jumping onto the bandwagon with her sister.
“It is kind of a funny story. Maria had been accepted first and I knew that she was going, so I packed my bags and got ready,” regales Nadia.
Not really surprised by her daughter’s eagerness to pursue her dreams just like her older sister, her mother made a video application of Nadia in the hope of getting her access to the academy in the near future.
Little did they know after dropping off the video that featured Nadia’s dance talents, fate inexplicably shone on the young 11-year-old. After saying their goodbyes to Maria in Washington that day and as they were waiting for a taxi to take them back to the airport from Kirov Academy, the director’s assistant ran out to inform them that Nadia's application had also been accepted.
"So I took my bags and said okay, bye mom!" says Nadia with a smile.
Art Direction: Allan Casal; Photography: Soon Lau from Show Up Pictures; Makeup: Irena Adam using Cle De Peau Beaute; Hair by Kay Tuan from Centro Hair Saloon; Jewellery: Mouawad; Location: Westports Malaysia
Click here to have an exclusive view behind the scenes of the photoshoot and for the full feature, you can get a copy of Malaysia Tatler May 2015 issue, available on newsstands now or click here to purchase the digital version.