Broadway is a long way from San Diego, but 14-year-old Kiril Kulish of University City has successfully glissaded his way from the West Coast to New York City’s theater district to star in “Billy Elliot.”
A year and a half ago, the diminutive dancer caught the eye of the show’s casting director while competing in the Youth America Grand Prix for ballet students and was invited to audition. Five months later, he was called back with 15 other U.S. male dancers. A year ago, he finally received word that he had been chosen as one of three boys to join the cast.
“I was just shocked,” Kulish said. “I didn’t think I’d get in ‘cause the role requires everything, not just ballet.”
After a month of rehearsals in London, Kulish and his mother, Raisa, returned home to make preparations to temporarily relocate to New York. The show will open in November and Kulish hopes to remain with the production for at least a year.
The home-schooled ninth grader has been a dedicated ballet student for half his life. Kulish has studied classical Russian men’s ballet under Maxim Tchernychev of the San Diego Academy of Ballet, located in Clairemont, for seven years, logging between two and six hours of rehearsal daily. His goal is to pursue a career as a professional dancer.
“I get lots of energy when I perform for people and it gives me something special,” Kulish said.
Tchernychev, who runs the academy with his wife Sylvia Poolos-Tchernychev, wasn’t surprised when his student scored the Elliot role.
“It makes me proud,” Tchernychev said. “I think he deserves it because he’s such a good worker, besides his talent. I think he’s going to be great at it.”
Tchernychev and Poolos-Tchernychev, who reside in La Jolla with their two young daughters, met in 1995 while dancing together professionally. In 2001, they established the San Diego Academy of Ballet. The school offers instruction to male and female students from as young as 3 years of age in ballet, tap and jazz. More than 200 students are currently enrolled at the academy.
“We’re the only Russian-based school as far as our training goes,” Poolos-Tchernychev said.
Poolos-Tchernychev, who grew up in San Diego, trained in the Russian Vaganova method under Marius Zirra. She went onto perform as a principal dancer with ballet and opera companies across the U.S., as well as dancing in television productions and competing internationally.
Russian-born Tchernychev studied ballet at the Novosibirsk Ballet Academy. After graduating, he joined the Bolshoi Ballet and toured throughout Europe.
Both instructors bring a unique element to their teaching, combining the grace and refinement of classic ballet with style and emotion.
Tchernychev said ballet, especially for male students, is much more demanding than people realize.
“They have to be in tip-top shape,” he said. “It requires amazing stamina because the dance exudes so much energy.
Kulish is a prime example of what can be achieved with diligent study, Tchernychev said.
“He’s a great student. He works. He accepts. He’s like a sponge when you teach him,” he said. “For his level, he is (as) advanced as he can be, not just in San Diego but in other places.”
Several of the academy’s students have landed leading roles in performances in San Diego and beyond, as well as earning honors at prestigious ballet competitions.
Poolos-Tchernychev said one advantage she and Tchernychev offer to their students is firsthand experience on the stage.
“I feel like we can explain to the kids …how to prepare for it, how to feel that role,” she said.