Former Bolshoi dancer finds a prodigy in the Jewel


A man who left the Bolshoi and ended up in La Jolla now finds himself training a local ballet prodigy.

Maxim and Sylvia Tchernychev are founders and artistic directors of the San Diego Academy of Ballet and Ballet Theatre. Currently, they are training a University City resident, Kiril Kulish, who is one of the country’s most promising young dancers, Maxim Tchernychev.

The San Diego Academy of Ballet and Ballet Theatre is a non-profit school that focuses on teaching classical ballet, but it is also the only school in San Diego that specializes in teaching the Russian-based Vaganova method of ballet.

Maxim Tchernychev was born in Russia, where he trained to be a professional dancer. He came to the United States in 1994 while on tour with a Russian dance company, but he decided to stay in America and make the country his home. He became dancing partners with a native San Diegan, Sylvia Poolos, and the two later married.

“We started partnering and we had this chemistry,” Sylvia said. “We really complimented each other really well ... people knew before we knew.”

They toured the country throughout the 1990s and were guest dancers for many different dance companies, but in 2001 they decided to teach full-time and open the San Diego Academy of Ballet and Ballet Theatre.

“You can’t dance for too long,” Maxim said. “Your body eventually gives out and teaching is something that we both enjoy very much.”

The San Diego Academy of Ballet and Ballet Theatre has about 150 students. The program is more intense than most dance schools in the county, Maxim said.

One of the school’s most successful dancers is 12-year-old Kiril Kulish. Kulish was born and raised in University City and he has been training at the Academy since it opened.

Kulish recently won one of the most prestigious awards for a young dancer, the Youth America Grand Prix dance scholarship competition. The competition took place in New York City and it featured ballet students from all over the world.

Kulish started ballet at six years-old and currently he practices for three hours a day with the Tchernychevs.

Kulish has a strong partnership with the Tchernychevs. Although professional dance companies have sought him out, he has decided to remain in La Jolla to live with his family and continue to study at to the San Diego Academy of Ballet and Ballet Theatre.

“He is a dream student, he is a student that any teacher would love,” Maxim said. “I think it is important that students and teachers work well together, and we really have a good connection.”

Maxim added that although Kulish is a highly successful student, he has remained down-to-earth and he gets along well with his peers at the school.

Kulish said that he enjoys ballet because he finds it to be a very masculine sport.

There are several other boys who study at the San Diego Academy of Ballet and Ballet Theatre. The school is fortunate to have a group of male dancers because it is rare for American boys to like ballet, Maxim said.

Sylvia added that Maxim is a good role model for the young male students, like Kulish.

“The wonderful quality Max has is that he is a very masculine male teacher,” Sylvia said. “The boys admire him and what he can bring to the class and how masculine ballet is ... it takes strength, it is very hard.”

The goal of the school is to train young dancers to one day be a part of a professional dance company, Maxim said.

Many talent scouts from major companies throughout America and Europe were at the Youth America Grand Prix dance scholarship competition, so the event had an enormous amount of clout, according to Maxim.

However, Kulish does not intend to leave La Jolla to join a company in the near future.

Kulish’s parents were born in Russia, but Kulish has lived in San Diego his whole life.

The San Diego Academy of Ballet and Ballet Theatre teaches the Vaganova method of ballet training. The method comes from Russia and both the Tchenychevs were trained by it . Maxim was in the Bolshoi ballet in Russia for a number of years and Sylvia had a Romanian teacher who taught her the Vaganova method. Maxim said he favors the Vaganova method because it has proven to be successful.

“Many famous dancers that have been produced in Russia,” Maxim said. “We are building a strong school that produces strong dancers. [The method] is challenging, most students cannot handle it. You have to be dedicated, you have to work hard, and all the kids that stay in our school are all hard workers.”

Kulish said he is grateful for the training he has received from the Tchernychevs.

“My teachers have got me really far,” Kulish said. “They are amazing. Max is a really good role model, he has taught me all the techniques that I need to be at the top level.”