'Billy' boys trained at S.D. studio

The San Diego Academy of Ballet was a winner along with the three young "Billy Elliot" stage actors who took home Best Actor Tony Awards on Sunday.

The Kearny Mesa dance studio, founded in 2001, and its artistic directors, Maxim Tchernychev and Sylvia Poolos-Tchernychev, were mentioned by San Diego actor and alum Kiril Kulish, 15, during his thank-you speech.


The academy also was the early training ground for another of the Billys, David Alvarez. After studying dance there for three years, David left for New York in 2006 on a ballet-study scholarship.

Kiril trained at the academy from age 7 until 14, when he took on the role of Billy Elliot, a motherless boy obsessed with ballet in a rough coal-mining town in England.


"He is exceptionally talented from so many aspects: strength, coordination, flexibility, musicality," Maxim Tchernychev says of Kiril. Most important, "he dances with his soul. You have to be born with that. It shows on stage when dancers have it. Kiril has such a presence."

Kiril and his mom, a former concert pianist, moved to New York for "Billy Elliot" from their apartment in University City. His early education was at La Jolla Country Day, but he soon turned to home schooling because of his hectic training and performance schedule in ballroom dance and ballet. He won youth championships in national ballroom Latin dance and the American Grand Prix of Ballet, including its top youth award. Kiril is also an accomplished pianist.

"I was completely in shock," Kiril said of the Tony Award in a phone interview yesterday. "We were up against such talented actors with so much experience."

Kiril, David and the third Billy, Trent Kowalik, had prepared an acceptance speech outline, he said, but it all changed once they walked on stage. "It was so overwhelming."

He is getting lots of calls and text messages from his many San Diego friends, including the Tchernychevs. "I'd have to say Maxim and Sylvia were the people who most influenced me," Kiril says, "and brought me to where I am today."

Tchernychev says Kiril trained six days a week at the academy for four to six hours a day. "I had the best time working with him. He takes everything you give him and understands it. He's like a sponge."

Kiril has mentioned the academy often during interviews, sparking numerous inquiries from interested students, who currently number about 200.

Tchernychev, delighted with his former students' success, says, "I already have a few boys 6, 7 and 8 years of age who, in two to three years, could be the next Billys."


Around town

Residents have successfully rallied to save the La Jolla Cove Fourth of July fireworks display. A grass-roots campaign has brought in the $27,000 needed to hold this year's show. Lots of work remains, but restaurateur George Hauer, who has privately sponsored the display for 24 years, has agreed to help pull it all together . . .

Ed Asner, who played Lou Grant on TV and is the voice of the lead character in Pixar's new film, "Up," is using his voice to launch The Winston School's "Conversation Series" at 3:45 p.m. today. He'll moderate a community forum on autism and Asperger's syndrome. Open to the public, the free event is at the school at 215 Ninth St. in Del Mar . . .

Something for football fans in June . . . LaDainian Tomlinson and his wife, Torsha, are hosting Palomar Pomerado Health Foundation's gala Saturday with an assist from Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts as emcee. . . .

Phyllis Colter was honored Saturday at Neighborhood Healthcare's 40th anniversary gala for her volunteer work with local health clinics. . . .

Father Joe Carroll will be in a wheelchair tonight when he receives a lifetime achievement award from The San Diego Housing Federation at its affordable housing banquet. The honcho of Father Joe's Villages is laid up due to recent foot surgery. Typical of the priest's perseverance, doctors told him recovery would take six to eight weeks, but he was back at work three days after leaving the hospital.


Diane Bell's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Please fax items to (619) 260-5009, call (619) 293-1518 or e-mail to