Board of Directors:

At the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet, we have an incredible Board of Directors who are committed to our mission of fostering a rebirth of dramatic storytelling in ballet. We are fortunate to be supported by their expertise and their commitment to serve.

Andre Tchelistcheff, Chair
Jerry Aroneo
Michael Chernov
Gelsey Kirkland
Nilay Shah
Harriet Tamen


Ballet Masters:

Gelsey Kirkland

Gelsey Kirkland received her early training at the School of American Ballet, gaining early stage experience dancing children’s roles in Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Harlequinade. She graduated to the New York City Ballet in 1968, was promoted to soloist in 1970 and principal dancer in 1972. While in the New York City Ballet she performed a variety of leading roles in their repertory, including Concerto Barocco, The Cage, Irish Fantasy, Symphony in C, La Source, Theme and Variations, Tarantella, Harlequinade, The Nutcracker and Dances at a Gathering.

Her desire to master roles in full-length works coincided with Baryshnikov’s defection and invitation to dance with him at American Ballet Theatre, which she joined in 1974 as principal dancer. Teachers most influential in her development as a classical artist include Stanley Williams, Maggie Black, David Howard, actress and mime Pilar Garcia and dramaturge Greg Lawrence.

Ms. Kirkland received worldwide acclaim for her performances in the classical repertory: the title role in Giselle, Kitri in Don Quixote, Clara in The Nutcracker, Swanhilda in Coppélia, Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, the sylph in La Sylphide, Lise in La Fille Mal Gardée, Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, Nikiya in The Kingdom of the Shades, the Mazurka and pas de deux in Les Sylphides, and the sleepwalker in La Sonnambula.

Major choreographers have been inspired to create new works for her; namely, a production of Firebird by George Balanchine when she was seventeen, several ballets by Jerome Robbins, and Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading and The Tiller in the Fields. Ms. Kirkland’s guest appearances with leading companies are notably the critically acclaimed performances of The Sleeping Beauty and MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet with The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, and in Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet with The Stuttgart Ballet. On the occasion of Queen Elizabeth’s 60th Birthday Gala at Covent Garden she performed the balcony pas de deux with Anthony Dowell. Her appearances on American and British television include Live from Lincoln Center and the film version of Baryshnikov’s The Nutcracker. Retirement from the stage in 1986 marked Ms. Kirkland’s transition into teaching and coaching in institutions such as American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Ballet School, English National Ballet, and The Australian Ballet. In the 1990’s she was Professor of Dance at Adelphi University in New York. In 2002-2005 she taught at the Victorian College of the Arts and was director of the ballet program at Danceworld 301. Ms. Kirkland studied the Vaganova Method at the Victorian College of the Arts. She continued intensive teacher training under Nina Osipyan. In 2006-2008 she collaborated with Kevin McKenzie and Michael Chernov in the staging and additional choreography for The Sleeping Beauty for American Ballet Theatre, as well as appearing as the Fairy Carabosse in that production.

Gelsey Kirkland and Greg Lawrence are the authors of her first autobiography Dancing On My Grave published in 1986, her second autobiography titled The Shape Of Love published in 1990, and a children’s book called The Little Ballerina and Her Dancing Horse published in 1993.


Michael Chernov

Michael Chernov received his early ballet and theatre training at the National Ballet and Theatre School in Melbourne, Australia. He has worked with classical ballet companies nationally and internationally. From 1987 to 1994 Mr. Chernov worked as an actor performing Off–Broadway and in regional theatre with the Hartford Stage Company and the Alonso Theatre Company in plays by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Shaw and Coward, working under the direction of Tony Award winning directors Vivian Matalon and Brian Murray. In 1992 he studied theatre directing at T. Schreiber Studios in New York and has directed plays by Anton Chekov and Horton Foote, including directing the actor Leonid Satinovsky from Russia’s prestigious Moscow Arts Theatre in Chekov’s The Bear. In 2003 Mr. Chernov received his Graduate Ballet Teacher’s Diploma (Vaganova Method) at the Victorian College of the Arts, and in 2006 completed a Master of Arts Administration at the University RMIT, Melbourne Australia. He taught classical ballet at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2004 and 2005, and at Danceworld in Melbourne, Australia where he was co-director of the ballet program with his wife Gelsey Kirkland. He has taught at Steps on Broadway, Peridance Studios and Ballet Hispanico in New York and in summer programs throughout the U.S. From 2006-7 Mr. Chernov worked in collaboration with Gelsey Kirkland and Kevin McKenzie on the staging and choreography for The Sleeping Beauty at American Ballet Theatre.


Alexandra Lawler

Alexandra Lawler received her early training in Melbourne, Australia with Hilary Debden & Dance World Studios, where she received a Diploma of Art with honors, passed RAD Advanced II with Distinction & was a finalist in the McDonald’s Ballet Scholarships in which she performed at the Sydney Opera House. She went on to study at the New Zealand School of Dance (NZSD), during which time she was invited to compete in the 2003 New York International Ballet Competition & performed in the semi-finals. Following her formal training, she was coached by Gelsey Kirkland & was the recipient of the Kingston City Arts Grant that allowed her to further her training with Kirkland in New York. Nina Osipyan trained her as a teacher in the Vaganova method. She also studied the Bournonville Enchainments alongside Gelsey Kirkland, and assisted her and Michael Chernov in research for their production of The Sleeping Beauty for American Ballet Theatre. She has taught at numerous professional ballet schools in Melbourne, Australia.


Lyubov Fominich

Lyubov Fominich was born August 20, 1952 in the city of Kurgan, Russia. At the age of seven, she entered into the ballet school of Chelyabinsk. After four years of study, considered the most capable girl in the school, she was advised to audition for the Perm Ballet Academy. In 1963, she was accepted into one of the most prestigious Ballet Academies in Russia graduating with distinction in 1970 in the class of well-known teachers L.Saharova and J. Plaht. That same year Fominich became a Soloist with the Perm State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, where she earned her a fast promotion to the rank of a Prima Ballerina of the company. She received the Gold Medal at the 1976 Moscow Ballet Competition. Together with the most prominent ballerinas of the Russian ballet theaters, such as I.Kolpakova, N.Kurgapkina, R.Struchkova, etc., Liubov became a constant and the youngest participant of the touring company “The Stars of Ballet.”

In 1977, in honor of her and her comprehensive contribution to the art of ballet, Ms. Fominich was awarded the title “Honored Artist” of the Russian Federation. In 1979, she was invited to dance the central role of Kitri in the ballet “Don-Quixote” on the stage of the glorified Kirov (Mariinsky) Theatre in Saint Petersburg. An offer to join the company followed at once; however, she accepted the invitation of the State Opera and Ballet Theatre of Odessa, Ukraine, where she worked with the great ballet master Julius Plaht. In 1982, she left Russia and departed for her husband’s home. There, after a debut in the role of Odette-Odile in “Swan Lake”, she became a Prima Ballerina of the Sofia National Opera (SNO later reneamed Sofia National Ballet).

Ms. Fominich continued to tour worldwide as a member of the company and as a guest-star. She has worked with such well-known Ballet Masters as Y. Grigorovich, P. Lakot, A. Petrov, etc. and has a vast knowledge and experience in the classical as well as the contemporary repertoire. She has acted in several television ballet films, one which (“La Fille Mal Guardee”) received the Bulgarian National Award for the best television film of 1985. In 1993, Mrs. Fominich left the stage and she engaged in pedagogical activity at the National Academy of Dance starting in 1984. She also remained as a teacher and Ballet Mistress at the theatre, sharing her rich stage experience with new generations of stars in the Sofia National Opera. Her reputation as a ballet teacher and coach quickly grew in and outside of Bulgaria, and she received an invitation to teach in Greece 1995-97, Korea 2001-02, and Turkey 2003.

Simultaneously, Ms. Fominich began studies with a specialty in “Ballet Directing” at the National Institute of Stage and Screen Arts graduating and earning a Masters Degree in 2004. As a director, she has carried out two brilliant jobs in the Sofia and Burgas Operas—the ballets “Paquita” and “La Bayadere.” In the August of 2004, she received an invitation from Vladimir Issaev, Artistic director of the Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida, to join his company as a Ballet Mistress where she successfully trained and coached ballet dancers and students. In 2006, she joined the professional Kirov Ballet Academy in Washington, DC, where she worked and shared a wealth of knowledge and experience both in the classical and contemporary repertoire.


Nikolay Levitsky

Mr. Levitsky received his dance training at the Kiev Ballet Academy in Ukraine. After graduating, he toured with The Opera and Ballet State Theatre of Ukraine as a Principal Dancer and later for 18 years with The Leningrad State Ballet Company of Russia. In St. Petersburg, Russia he held the position of Assistant Ballet Master and Repetiteur with Eifman Ballet and Ballet Master and Repetiteur with the Leonid Jacobson’s State Ballet Theatre. He also taught at the St. Petersburg Liberal University of Art. He obtained his vast teaching experience at companies including The Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg Liberal University of Arts, Universal Ballet Theatre (Seoul, Korea), The Universal Ballet Academy (Seoul, Korea), The Korean National University (Seoul, Korea), Colorado Ballet Company (Denver, CO), and Festival Ballet Theatre (Los Angeles, CA). In 2004 and 2005, he received the Best Ballet Teacher of the Year Award at the Youth America Grand Prix. Mr. Levitsky’s wide knowledge in the ballet classics and talent for teaching character dance makes him a well sought-after instructor.


Vera Soloveyva

Ms. Soloveyva has extensive experience as a former Principal Dancer for 18 years of the Leningrad State Ballet Company. A Graduate of the Vagonova Ballet Academy Teacher’s Course, in St. Petersburg Ms. Solovyeva also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Dance Education. Previously a Teacher and Repetiteur for Eifmen Ballet and for Leonid Jacobson’s State Ballet Theatre, she rehearsed and staged numerous ballet performances. Ms. Solovyeva later taught at the St. Petersburg Liberal University of Arts and following, became a Principal Teacher of Universal Ballet (Seoul, Korea), Colorado Ballet (Denver, CO), and Festival Ballet Theatre (Los Angeles, CA) staging performances such as Spartacus, Le Corsaire, Paquita, Don Quixote and La Bayadere. Her students successfully competed in the Prix de Lausanne, Varna International Ballet Competition, Moscow International Ballet Competition, Seoul International Dance Competition and the Youth American Grand Prix. Her dedication was rewarded with a Best Ballet Teacher of the Year Award in 2004 and 2005.


Karina Elver

Karina Elver was born in 1962 in Copenhagen. She began to dance at the age of 3 and at 9 years old she was accepted as student at Royal Danish Ballet School and danced with the Royal Danish Ballet until 2003. During her time at The Royal Danish Ballet, she had many solo parts in several famous ballets by August Bournonville, Balanchine, Alvin Ailey and many more. She grew up with the ballet style of the famous August Bournonville. She had received several grants such as The Dance Scholarship New York and Grant of the Art, etc. In 1992 she started to create her own choreography. In 2003, after 32 years, she decided to leave The Royal Theater to work as a freelance teacher, choreographer and Bournonville specialist.


Alexandra Gonzalez

Alexandra Gonzalez started her dance training in Miami, Florida. At the age of seven, she continued her ballet training in Colombia with the Ana Pavlova Ballet Academy. At the age of fifteen, she received a full scholarship to join the San Francisco Ballet School where she was featured in Dance Magazine. She then joined the San Francisco Ballet Company under the direction of Helgi Tomasson, after which she moved back to Miami were she guested with the Miami City Ballet, Ballet Florida, Americas Ballet, and Michel Uthoff Dance Theater among other companies. She joined the New World School of the Arts under the direction of Daniel Lewis were she graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Dance Performance in 2004. In New York City, Alexandra has danced with Cedar Lake Dance Company and Ballet Hispanico. She currently dances with The Metropolitan Opera.


Pilar Garcia

Pilar Garcia’s acting credits include the Broadway cast of Mummenschanz and various productions with The CSC Repertory Company, The Richard Morse Mime Theatre, and The Paper Bag Players. As a mime and movement coach, Ms. Garcia has been privileged to work with dancers such as prima ballerina Gelsey Kirkland on numerous roles, as well as coaching actors such as Philip Anglim, Jack Weatherall, and David Bowie in Broadway’s The Elephant Man. She teaches movement for actors and mime at the Stella Adler Studios in New York.


Liudmila Polonskaya

Liudmila Polonskaya was born in Russia in the region of Crimeia. At the age of ten, she joined the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg and went on to graduate as a ballet dancer.

In 1974 Ms. Polonskaya became first ballerina of the Maly Opera Theater in St. Petersburg, where she interpreted the leading roles of the classic repertoire such as Swan Lake, Giselle,
Le Corsaire, Paquita, Raymonda, La Bayadere, Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. She had the opportunity to travel with the company around the world.

In 1995 she graduated with a master degree in Ballet Pedagogy at the Vaganova Ballet Academy with a diploma of Choreographer and Teacher of Classical Ballet, Character and Historical Dance. Ms. Polonskaya was then hired by the Vaganova Ballet Academy where
she taught classical ballet from 1995-2001. She was invited to teach at ballet schools in Australia, Japan, Korea and Brazil.

Over the years, her students have been awarded important prizes in national and international competitions such as the Grand Prix de Lausanne and Youth America Grand Prix, and scholarships to Canada’s National Ballet School and The Harid Conservatory. They danced professionally for Royal Ballet, ABT, Monique Ballet Theater, and National Canada Ballet.

In June of 2006, Ms. Polonskaya was invited to join the Tulsa Ballet Faculty as full time Instructor. After one year, Ms. Polonskaya was appointed School Principal & Second Company Director. She staged and coached Tulsa Ballet II productions of Don Quixote, La Bayadere, Raymonda, Pas de Quatre, The Dying Swan, and Coppelia.

In 2011 in Houston and 2012 in Dallas in the Regional Semi-Final YAGP Competition students of Tulsa Ballet coached by Ms. Polonskaya won numerous prestigious awards including Grand Prix. Tulsa Ballet School was named Best Ensemble, Best Group and Outstanding School. The ensemble and soloists were finalists in the top 12 in the final YAGP competition in New York.

Ms. Polonskaya acted as a judge at the American Dance Competition in Orlando in 2011 and 2012. She has taught numerous master classes and workshops within the United States and
in other countries as guest teacher and choreographer.


Natalia Sheptalova

Natalia Sheptalova trained at The Moscow State Academy of Choreography in Moscow, Russia. After she graduated she joined Russian National Ballet where she performed all over the world in corps and demi-soloist roles. During her time at RNB, she attended the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts where she earned a degree in ballet. In the same time period, Peter Korogodsky, a master teacher form Bolshoi, encouraged Natasha to teach. Natalia became an assistant teacher at Steps when she moved to NYC in 2010. Since then, Ms. Sheptalova has taught many places in the tri-state area including Brooklyn Jewish Dance Theatre and Princeton Dance and Theater Studios. Ms. Sheptalova is a member of the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet Studio Company, and has completed the GKA Teacher’s Training Course.


Akop Akopian

Graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia and the Yerevan State Choreographic College. Had the privilege to study under two of A.Vaganova’s former students: the ballet legends F.Balabina, and N.Dudinskaya. Mr. Akopian also had the privilege to study under K. Sergeyev, W. Zimin, N. Serebryanikov and N. Mehrabyan.

Upon graduation from the Vaganova Academy, he became a leading dancer in the Armenian National Theater Opera and Ballet in Yerevan. In 1991 he danced with classic ballet de Montreal. In 1993 he was invited to Germany to join the Thuringian State Ballet. For the following seven years he became one of the most acclaimed principal dancers of the company. Mr. Akopian received the best dancer of the year award in 1997 and 1999, was praised in many European magazines and in a book entitled Musis-Sacrum published in Germany. In 2000, Mr. Akopian danced with Ballet New York. In 2001 he was invited to join GRBC and for his work there he was recognized in many ballet magazines and other media sources.

As a guest artist Mr. Akopian has danced in numerous international galas around the world. He has had the opportunity to work with numerous ballet masters and choreographers including Dietmar Seyffert, Ludmilla Sakharova, Anahit Grigorian, Vilen Galstyan, Martin Wennde, Peter Martin, Judith Fugate and Nina Strogonova. The leading roles in Giselle, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, Carmen, The Nutcracker, Eugene Onegin, Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty, La Fille Mal Gardee, Fierbird, Scherheresade, Paquita, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Enigma, Antuny, Wolfe, Ara Beautiful, Cinderella, various Balanchine pieces were among the roles Mr.Akopian danced throughout his career.

Since 2004 Mr. Akopian has choreographed a variety of original pieces for professional dancers and companies. Two of Mr. Akopian’s ballets that are cherished by audience are his full-length Nutcracker and his original full-length ballet, The Jungle Book – Mowgli. In 2014 Mr. Akopian choreographed two original ensemble pieces for the Youth American Grand Prix: “Time and “Russian Milk Maids”, placed third and in the top twelve correspondingly. Both pieces were praised by the judges for creativity, choreography, presentation, beautiful lines and technique and were selected to finals in New York City.

Mr. Akopian worked as a Founder Artistic Director and Board of Directors member of Michigan Ballet Academy. He is very committed to excellence, likes to share his rich stage experience and feels very proud of his students who perform professionally in various ballet companies after studying under his guidance.

John Pickup

Mr Pickup received his early training from Leeanne Rutherford at Ballet Theatre Australia and later with Peter Shortland and Kathryn Hailey at The Studio. As a dancer he performed with The Wiggles, Lithuanian National Ballet, AURA Dance Company and Untitled Collective NYC. Mr Pickup began teaching at Essendon Academy of Ballet, Melbourne Australia before teaching at various schools throughout Sydney and Melbourne. During this time he studied the RAD syllabus under Kathryn Hailey. After relocating to New York, he began training under Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov as both a dancer and teacher. Mr. Pickup is currently a faculty member in the GKA Pre-Professional Division and Full Day Professional Training Program.