Katya Chernyshev and Andrew Fleischner

Perfectly Paired

by Matt de la Peña ’04
For childhood friends and dance partners Katya Chernyshev ’22 and Andrew Fleischner ’22, SPS represents the best of school and ballet.
There was barely a time when Katya Chernyshev ’22 and Andrew Fleischner ’22 didn’t know one another. Or so it seems to Chernyshev, who doesn’t remember exactly how they met but quickly notes where and when.
 
“We were like eight years old,” she says of their first encounter at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, among the largest dance companies in Fleischner and Chernyshev’s Pennsylvania hometown. “I have known Andrew for so long that I have a hard time thinking of memories when I didn’t know him.”
 
Many of her fondest memories, Chernyshev continues, are the ones with Fleischner, who she describes as a friend for life, one who was always willing to goof around for laughs but work hard when it mattered. Now Sixth Form students at St. Paul’s School and star dancers with the St. Paul’s School Ballet Company (SPSBC), the pair’s longstanding friendship — which incidentally played a pivotal role in Chernyshev’s journey to St. Paul’s — is coming full circle.
 
Fleischner joined SPS as a Third Former in the fall of 2018, following in the footsteps of his father Chris ’89, uncle David ’91 and cousin Margaret ’20. It was a departure from the training he’d grown used to, which by eighth grade required him to leave school early every day, and an opportunity to balance exceptional dance opportunities with more of the elements of a typical high school experience.
 
“I wanted to come to St. Paul’s because of how strong their academics and the dance program are,” he says. “I wanted to have that in-person high school experience and dance at the same time. I didn’t originally see that path for myself. I just saw myself staying at home, going to a day school and then commuting to the dance studio. But that’s another reason why St. Paul’s was so great: There wasn’t a commute, and I could still get those dancing hours.”
 
For her part, Chernyshev remained in Pittsburgh and continued training in the conservatory tradition with an eye on a life like her parents, both of whom had prestigious performance careers as principal dancers with St. Louis Ballet. As Chernyshev describes it, ballet had a way of dictating every major decision in her life, but it wasn’t long before she began craving something different, a notion that life could offer more than just a daily dose of dance.
 
“I heard about St. Paul’s because of Andrew,” says Chernyshev. “I knew he was going to some boarding school, but I didn’t ask much about it. I started talking to him about St. Paul’s and my interest really grew. I was like, ‘Cool, I’ll just throw my application out there and see what happens.’”
 
The chance paid off. Since Chernyshev’s arrival at SPS as a new Fifth Former in 2020, she and Fleischner have found a familiar routine: “We get dinner every night, lunch every day, we dance together. We do everything together,” Chernyshev says.
 
This past winter, Chernyshev and Fleischner earned the distinguished honor of performing the leading roles of Cavalier and the Sugar Plum Fairy in the SPSBC’s annual presentation of Act II of “The Nutcracker.” In February, they traveled to Boston to compete individually in the first leg of the Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest international ballet competition and scholarship program for dance students. Often described as the “Olympics of classical ballet,” the annual competition has catapulted the careers of ballet stars including principal dancers for the American Ballet Theatre and English National Ballet. At the end of the month, Chernyshev and Fleischner both learned they’d both been invited to the competition’s finals for their age group. In April, they’ll head to Tampa Bay, Florida, to compete.
 
And the duo’s journey doesn’t end there. Later this summer, Chernyshev and Fleischner head back to Boston for Boston Ballet’s six-week summer intensive program, among the largest and most prestigious summer training programs in the United States. It is also an opportunity for many young dancers to hone their skills with some of the world’s leading artists and teachers, a chance to put their talents squarely in front of the eyes of ballet’s gatekeepers. In some cases, professional contracts follow and so do the careers of the next generation of artists.
 
What does the future hold for Chernyshev and Fleischner?
 
“I don’t want to jinx myself,” laughs Chernyshev, who, like Fleischner, is on the cusp of weighing college options. “Let’s just say if Boston offered me a contract to dance, I wouldn’t turn that down. I think Andrew would probably feel the same.”
 
Indeed, Fleischner reflects on his next step in a similar vein. “If I listen to my heart, it’s like, ‘Go for dance, you can always go to college later in life,’” he says. “It’s a good problem to have.”

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