"Behind the Veil": Classical Ballet from the Gelsey Kirkland Academy


Photos and Text by Carl Glassman

Billed as a showcase for its gifted students and professional-level Studio Company, the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet took the Michael Schimmel Center stage last month with “Behind the Veil.”

The presentation brought together a glorious staging of excerpts from Acts 1, 2 and 3 of the 19th-century classic “Le Corsaire,” and a second act that in­cluded portions from five other ballets.

  “You’re trying to give the highest- level kids opportunities to do what they’re shining at, so you choose repertoire to help them grow and also to show what they can do,” said Misha Chernov, who directed the production. “By choosing a repertoire with a bar just above the school it forces you to grow to the next level.”

Chernov, a former ballet dancer and actor and his wife, Gelsey Kirkland, the renowned former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, started the Tribeca-based school less than three years ago. It has grown, Chernov said, “way beyond our expectations.” 

Watching these performers, it is easy to forget their youth—mostly teens and college-aged students. Their talent and dedication are honed by the exacting demands of the academy. Selected through auditions in 23 cities, they study ballet eight hours a day, five and a half days a week and attend school, online, in the evenings. Most live away from their families.

“You can’t demand a tremendous amount if the kids aren’t studying every day,” Kirkland said.

Clearly a perfectionist, the former prima ballerina said she was pleased with the latest performance.

“It’s a very good assessment of the growth of the kids and also unexpected shiners come up on stage. People you wouldn’t expect to burst out, do.”

The academy is already preparing for a grand production, to be performed a year from now, of “The Nutcracker.” There are more than 200 roles and, through their after-school program, Kirkland and Chernov hope to draw Downtown children, ages 5 to 14, for some of them. “We want them now so we can train them over the year,” Chernov said.

For those who choose it, Chernov said, classical ballet is about much more than the performance. “It’s about opening up one’s eyes and soul to a beauty that isn’t out there in the world,” he said. “It’s like a garden. You have to cultivate it.”

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