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Dancer, choreographer, and co-founder of Nevada’s first professional dance company, Vassili Sulich was born in 1929 on the island of Brac in Croatia in the former Yugoslavia. Sulich performed in a children’s theatre group for American soldiers during World War II in Egypt. Returning to Yugoslavia after the war, Sulich continued to dance with this group until he was discovered by the directors of the Zagreb Opera Ballet and began his classical ballet training. In 1952, he received a scholarship to study ballet in London, England. A year later, he moved to Paris to join the Ballet de France de Janine Charrat. Sulich remained in Paris for eleven years where he had an active career dancing in numerous companies and opera houses, first in small roles, and then later as the principal dancer and soloist in a variety of ballets. He danced with the Ballets de Paris de Roland Petit, Ballet des Etoiles de Paris, Ballet Miskovitch de Paris, and Ballet Ludmilla Tcherina. He often partnered with famous ballerinas such as Colette Marchand, Ludmilla Tcherina, and Zizi Jeanmaire.
In 1960, he became principal dancer in the world-famous Parisian nightclub show Lido de Paris. During his years in Paris, he began his choreographic career with work on “Suite Lyrique,” “The Wall,” and “Oedipe-Roi.” In 1964, after a turn in the Folies Bergère on Broadway in New York City (during which he also studied with Martha Graham), Sulich was hired by the Folies Bergère show at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, and he spent nine years as principal dancer and ballet master.
In addition to conducting ballet classes, Sulich also found an outlet for his creativity in art. He could often be found sketching and drawing elaborate ballpoint pen landscapes and portraits in his dressing room. His ballet instruction soon evolved into teaching ballet classes for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Dance Department. In exchange for teaching classes, Sulich had use of the stage at the Judy Bayley Theatre on campus. In 1972, he presented a dance concert at the Judy Bayley Theatre using show dancers from the Las Vegas Strip who volunteered their services for free. It was the inaugural concert of what became the Nevada Dance Theatre, the state’s first professional dance company.
With the aid of co-founder Nancy Houssels, Sulich transformed the original volunteer troupe into a professional company of resident dancers with a regular season of performances. A school was added to the company in 1979. Sulich spent 25 years as artistic director of Nevada Dance Theatre, choreographing 51 ballets, many of which have since been staged with other companies outside the United States. During this time, he also choreographed for both the San Francisco Opera and Seattle Opera.
Sulich retired from Nevada Dance Theatre (later renamed Nevada Ballet Theatre) in 1997. Following his retirement, Sulich continued to work as a choreographer in Europe and South America. He also took time out to write his autobiography Vision in the Desert, which was published in 2001. Sulich currently resides in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and he continues to choreograph ballet for companies in Europe and Brazil. In September 2008, Sulich was inducted into UNLV’s Nevada Entertainer/Artist Hall of Fame.
UNLV College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame 2008 Inductees, http://www.unlv.edu/finearts/2008-inductees.