Our History – Test

NBT’s 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book & Video

Documenting NBT’s first 50 Years of Arts Performance, Education, Training and Community Engagement

“Nevada Ballet Theatre has impacted our community through Artistry, Education and Inspiration for 50 years and with great anticipation NBT will continue to enrich the cultural life of Las Vegas for the next 50 years.”
–Nancy Houssels, Co-Founder/Board Chair Emeritus


A Timeline of Nevada Ballet Theatre’s History

Nevada Dance Theatre (NDT) is Co-Founded by Vassili Sulich and Nancy Houssels
The vision of a professional ballet company based in Las Vegas was brought to life in 1972 when Vassili Sulich, then the principal dancer with the Tropicana Hotel and Casino’s famed Folies Bergere, gathered a group of ballet dancers from the Las Vegas Boulevard entertainment industry and presented a series of dance concerts to an enthusiastic public at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Performing Arts Center’s Judy Bayley Theatre. The overwhelmingly positive reception of the community, combined with the support of UNLV, was such that within two years a volunteer board was established—headed by founding chairman and former dancer, Nancy Houssels. And during the next 25 years, a professional ballet company emerged.

“Our first dancers were classically trained volunteer dancers working in shows on the Strip. They donated their time and talent and in the very beginning, even their costumes. I remember the first fund raising meeting in my home; we invited 15 friends who donated $1,000 each. That $15,000 paid the costs of our premiere Nevada Dance Theatre (NDT) concert. This budget covered theater rental at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, crew costs, costumes, shoes, and an orchestra conducted by Ken Hanlon. Ken was Chairman of the UNLV Music Department and for many years mentored NDT in their affiliation with UNLV. The company was fortunate to be housed at UNLV for 38 years.”

“In the early days, we rehearsed in a vacant basketball gym at the UNLV Athletic complex. Our staff consisted of three people: Vassili, Norman Cain (our company manager at the time) and me. Our offices were in a back hallway of Ham Hall next to the Pepsi machine. By then, we had converted from all volunteer dancers to eight professional dancers hired for a fifteen-week season, which was the standard criteria set by the National Endowment for the Arts and which enabled us to apply for our non-profit tax-exempt status.”

–Nancy Houssels, Co-Founder/Board Chair Emeritus

NDT Establishes its Affiliated Academy
In 1979, the Company established an affiliated Academy to provide a premier dance education to young people in Southern Nevada and groom the next generation of dance enthusiasts. After the organization received a major grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, and a donation of land from The Howard Hughes Corporation, plans for a world-class home for the Company and Academy began. The Academy is now regarded as one of the top ballet and dance training centers in the city and offers a variety of classes for all ages and levels.

“In the 1970’s and 1980’s, our company inhabited several locations, some donated. We rehearsed, performed, and occupied offices at UNLV. We had donated warehousing for sets and costumes on West Tropicana. As the demand for academic space at UNLV increased, NDT moved to lease rehearsal space on East Tropicana and our offices re-located to East Flamingo. In 1979, we opened our Academy of NDT in a shopping center on Maryland Parkway and Tropicana. As a non-profit, we were happy to be anywhere and everywhere.”

–Nancy Houssels, Co-Founder/Board Chair Emeritus

NDT Begins Offering Dance Programming in Local Clark County Schools
In 1980, the Company expanded its community reach by sharing the art form of dance with students from underserved communities within Clark County.

NDT Holds its First Black & White Ball, Honoring Elaine Wynn as its “Woman of the Year”

NDT’s Education Efforts Expand and are Officially Branded as Future Dance, Made Possible by a
Donation from the Lied Foundation Trust Led by Christina Hixson

In 1993, the company established Future Dance in order to provide free in-school dance instruction (now known as Go-Move-Dance) and scholarship opportunities to students in need. Future Dance and its initiatives is one of the longest running Education programs in the state. With all its programs and activities combined, NBT reaches 20,000 students a year including those from underserved areas.

NDT Celebrates its 25th Anniversary During the 1996-1997 Season

Bruce Steivel Joins NDT as its Second Artistic Director and Ground-Breaking Begins on the Donald W. Reynolds Cultural Center, the Ballet’s New Practice Facility and Offices in Summerlin, Thanks to the Generosity of the Reynolds Foundation and a Donation of Land from the Howard Hughes Corporation

Nevada Dance Theatre is Rebranded to Nevada Ballet Theatre

“In the mid-1990’s, multiple changes occurred. Our Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Vassili Sulich, retired and Bruce Steivel was hired. Bruce had an impressive background in the classics and brought a new dimension to NDT. It was at this juncture that our Board of Trustees changed our name to Nevada Ballet Theatre (NBT).”

–Nancy Houssels, Co-Founder/Board Chair Emeritus

Construction of NBT’s New Facility is Complete

“In 1999, NBT moved into their very own facility, thanks to the generosity of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, who built us a magnificent 36,000 square foot building on land donated by the Howard Hughes Corporation. For the first time in our existence, we were consolidated into one location. Our history was beginning to take a different course.”

–Nancy Houssels, Co-Founder/Board Chair Emeritus

NBT receives $250,000 Grant from the E.L. Wiegand Foundation for the Creation of an all-new production of The Nutcracker in Celebration of the Company’s 30th Anniversary Season. Renowned Designer Alexandre Vassiliev is Commissioned to Create Costumes and Sets for the New Production

NBT Celebrates its 30th Anniversary Season

The Company Takes its First International Tour to Lisbon, Portugal performing Peter Pan

NBT Receives The Governor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts

NBT Celebrates its 35th Anniversary Season. The company Performs its First All-Balanchine Production and Beth Barbre joins the Organization as Executive Director

Company Performs Peter Anastos’ Yes Virginia Another Piano Ballet at the Renowned Vail International Dance Festival

Company Receives a Grant from the State of Nevada Legislature, Office of Tourism to Take their “In the Mood for Dance” Tour Through Six Northern Nevada cities. NBT also presents its first A Choreographers Showcase with Cirque du Soleil.

James Canfield is Named Interim Artistic Director and the Company is Invited to Perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. That same Year, Sixteen Members of the Company Travel to Seoul, South Korea to perform East Meets West, part of exchange production with the Seoul Ballet Theatre of Korea.

“It was also in this decade that two very important people arrived to guide NBT into the future. First, was Beth Barbre (2006), who worked for Balanchine’s New York City Ballet and The George Balanchine Trust. The second was James Canfield (2009), who was a former principal dancer with The Joffrey Ballet and founded his own company in Portland, Oregon — Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT). With the strong, professional leadership of Beth and James in place, we were now ready to set foot on the stage of The Smith Center as one of two Resident Companies.”

–Nancy Houssels, Co-Founder/Board Chair Emeritus

James Canfield is Appointed NBT’s Third Artistic Director

Nevada Ballet Theatre Presents Four Companies: One Stage with Ballet West, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as part of a special tribute to the late Robert Joffrey

Nevada Ballet Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Collaborate to Present Dance, Dance, Dance! At Paris Las Vegas

NBT’s long-awaited residency at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts becomes a reality on May 5, 2012, during the Company’s 40th Anniversary Gala Performance. That same year, NBT Presented George Balanchine’s Jewels, bringing three companies together for the first time to dance this famous ballet. Later that same year, NBT Presented an All-New Nutcracker Choreographed by James Canfield and Built Specifically for the Reynolds Hall Stage.

“When we look back on the 2012-2013 season, we’re struck by the many ways in which it was a year of new beginnings: a new performance home at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, a new production of The Nutcracker, and new opportunities for growth and outreach to the Las Vegas community. And yet, with all that’s new and exciting, some things remain constant: our commitment to artistic and educational excellence; our passion for preserving ballet for future generations; and our gratitude to those who have supported the organization over the past 40 years and have made it into the largest ballet company in the state.”

–Beth Barbre, NBT President & CEO

NBT completed its first full season as Resident Ballet Company of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. In addition, the first graduate of NBT’s Future Dance Program was offered a trainee contract with NBT’s professional company for the 2013-14 season, demonstrating the ability of the program to truly change lives and make dreams a reality for the youth in Las Vegas

“Ballet is about performance and artistry, but it is also about community. If you visit Nevada Ballet Theatre’s facility on any given evening, and you might catch a glimpse of our professional company rehearsing for the next main stage production while, down the hall, young Academy students and Future Dance scholars are eagerly learning new ballet positions. Amid the cacophony of greetings, instruction, and classical music, one has the distinct sense that art is not merely a finished product, but rather an unfolding, shared experience.”

–Beth Barbre, NBT President & CEO

With the help of a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, NBT was able to expand its adult education program and pre-show experience, Insights. In its first year, nearly 800 attendees learned about everything from the art of pantomime in Swan Lake to the inspiration behind sets and costumes for The Nutcracker.

Nevada Ballet Theatre’s 43rd season was a Mélange of Classic Favorites and Groundbreaking New Work

The Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre (ANBT) expands its offerings by Adding a Concert Dance-Based Competition Group for Students who Wish to Increase their Performance Opportunities and Participate in Master Classes and Workshops with some of Today’s Leading Choreographers and Dancers

Legendary Ballerina Cynthia Gregory who Rudolf Nuryev named “Prima Ballerina Assoluta” is named Artistic Coach for NBT and Jerry Nadal is Appointed Co-Chair of the Board

NBT Celebrates its 45th Season and Roy Kaiser is Named the Company’s Fourth Artistic Director. NBT Presents Cynthia Gregory’s Swan Lake at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts

Also that year, a Future Dance graduate and company apprentice completed her second season with the professional company. Two other graduates continue to teach in the Go-Move-Dance program and at the Academy. Additionally, NBT’s first male Future Dance Program graduate was selected to be a trainee with NBT’s professional company for the 2016-2017 Season.

NBT’s 2017-2018 Season featured Company Premieres and New Works including Matthew Neenan’s Until December, set to an original score by Renowned Composer Michael Torke

“What makes you feel at home somewhere, as opposed to simply living there? What gives your life meaning beyond basic sustenance? The answer is simple: Art. Culture. A sense of connection … It’s a community that celebrates expression, creativity, dialogue, and artistic inspiration. It’s a community that is more exciting and vibrant in the short term and more diverse, thoughtful, and inclusive in the long term.”

–Beth Barbre, NBT President & CEO

NBT’s 2018-2019 Season Celebrates the Company’s 47th Performance Season, and the Seventh as Resident Ballet Company of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. This successful Season welcomed 38,000 Ticketed Guests to The Smith Center

ANBT’s Competition Team Celebrates Five Years. Six of NBT’s Future Dance Scholars are selected to Compete for Best Dancer at Nationals

NBT presented Ionic Works, Contemporary Favorites, and a World Premiere of The Current by NBT Company Artist Krista Baker. Unfortunately, the Remainder of the 2020-2021 Season was not Realized Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic and the Closure of The Smith Center

Following the suspension of Company performances, Academy classes, and special events due to Covid-19, NBT pivoted in all areas of the organization while safely managing pandemic protocols. Through careful fiscal management, aggressive state, and federal grant acquisition, and donor outreach, NBT weathered an unprecedented year.

During this unforeseen time, some of the Company’s activity and outreach included the following endeavors:

NBT’s The Nutcracker: Home for the Holidays
As a way to honor this beloved holiday tradition during its time away from the stage, NBT, in partnership with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, produced a three-part TV special (that aired on the Cox YurView platform), featuring colorful highlights, rare behind-the-scenes footage and signature scenes from NBT’s beloved holiday production.

“Through this unprecedented TV broadcast, we hope to not only ignite the spirit of the season but shine a spotlight on those on stage as well as off the stage. From the original visionaries and designers, to the dancers and backstage crew, to the patrons who attend and support year after year, The Nutcracker is truly a community endeavor, brought to life by all of us.”

-Roy Kaiser, NBT Artistic Director

The Nutcracker Extravaganza
As a way to keep the magic of The Nutcracker alive for Las Vegas children, the Company debuted a 5,000 square foot museum-style exhibit at Discovery Children’s Museum featuring select costume and set pieces for the community to enjoy. This holiday exhibit was provided at no additional cost to families who visited the Museum during the month of December.

Dance On With NBT
To support its journey back to the stage, NBT’s Dance On with NBT fundraising and awareness initiatives continued to keep patrons engaged through biweekly newsletters and its NBT@Home content platform. Despite a $2.6 million-dollar loss in revenue across the organization, NBT remained focused on its mission of dance education through its affiliated Academy and Community Education department.

Following an 18 Month Hiatus from the Stage, NBT Opens its 2021-2022 Season with its Beloved Annual Production of The Nutcracker

The Company Presents a One-Night-Only Gala and Performance in Celebration of its 50th Anniversary on Saturday, May 14 at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts

“An artistic vision that would change Las Vegas forever came to life in 1972 and 50 years later, NBT received the opportunity to join them in marking this momentous occasion. NBT’s storied legacy is a testimony to the imagination and innovation of our founders, especially the steadfast leadership of our Co-Founder and Board Co-Chair Nancy Houssels. We are forever grateful to our dedicated Board of Trustees, donors, and patrons who have led us to this historic milestone.”

–Beth Barbre, NBT President & CEO


About our Co-Founders

VASSILI SULICH, CO-FOUNDER, a native Yugoslavian, began his career with the National Ballet of Zagreb and went on to dance as a soloist with a number of European ballet companies, among them, Janin Charrat’s Ballet de Paris, Milorad Miskovitch, Ballets de Paris de Roland Petit, Ludmilla Tcherina, and Massine’s Ballet europeens. He choreographed for the Lyon Opera, Geneva Opera House, and Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires.

In 1964, he came to Las Vegas’ Folies Bergere as a principal dancer and ballet master. After several years in Las Vegas, Sulich missed the beauty and focus of classical ballet. So, in 1972, he presented what was to be a one-time only program at UNLV with volunteer dancers. It played to a sold-out house and from there, Nevada Dance Theatre, subsequently renamed Nevada Ballet Theatre, emerged.

During his 25 years as Artistic Director, Sulich watched his company evolve from a small group of volunteers to a professional ballet company. He created and choreographed fity-one ballets that premiered through Nevada Dance Theatre. His ballets have been well received in Canada, New Zealand Bulgaria, Russia, Hong Kong and throughout the United States. Sulich has received the State of Nevada Governor’s Award for “Outstanding Individual Arts,” and the “Distinguished Nevadan” award from Nevada Senator Harry Reid. When Mr. Sulich retired, he was given the title “Emeritus” in recognition of his invaluable legacy of leadership.


NANCY HOUSSELS, CO-FOUNDER/BOARD CHAIR EMERITUS, born in Piedmont, California, Nancy began dancing at age three. After graduating from UCLA with a BA degree in Theater Arts, she performed worldwide in theater and television as part of the famed dance team, “Szony & Claire” with partner Francois Szony. The duo appeared several times on the Ed Sullivan and Hollywood Palace television shows and performed at the London Palladium, Radio City Music Hall, and the Latin Quarter, among numerous venues throughout the world.

Szony & Claire first appeared in Las Vegas in 1966 in the Casino de Paris show at the Dunes Hotel. They returned to Las Vegas in 1968 as the closing act in the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana Hotel. Nancy retired and married J. Kell Houssels, then President of the Tropicana, Chairman of the Showboat Hotel and Vice-President of the Union Plaza Hotel. In 1972, she co-founded Nevada Dance Theatre (now Nevada Ballet Theatre) with Vassili Sulich and to this day, remains the driving force as Co-Chair of the Board of Trustees.

Although Nancy was no longer performing, she extended her career by working in the community, becoming involved with the arts and children. She has received numerous accolades including the Governor’s Art’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts, the Jameson Philanthropic Achievement Award, Chamber of Commerce Women of Achievement Award, the Chris Schallert Award from WE CAN for abused and abandoned children among many others. She has served on a diverse number of Boards such as the UNLV Foundation, the Meadows School, as Chair of the Nevada Arts Council, Bank of Commerce, Children’s Service Guild and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Nancy was a devoted wife to her husband Kell for 46 years. She continues to cherish her children, Kelly, Eric and Josh and her 7 grandchildren. Also, she has dedicated a great deal of time in the last forty years to breeding and raising Great Dane dogs.
A highlight of Nancy’s life was the creation of The Smith Center, which opened in 2012. She worked with a group of inspired community leaders for 20 years to build The Smith Center, which now serves Las Vegas as a permanent cultural landmark. The Smith Center is the performance home of NBT, where they are the Resident Ballet Company.


The Next 50 Years

With a solid focus on dance education, a versatile Company of professional dancers and a growing repertoire, NBT stands as one of the oldest performing arts organizations in the state and one of the city’s most beloved community treasures. With an eye on the future, and a reverence for its past, NBT looks beyond its 50th Anniversary to the continuation of presenting outstanding professional ballet and dance productions to the Las Vegas community.

The cultural legacy of Nevada Ballet Theatre is a testament to the unique vision and creativity of those who came before us. It is years of hard work and dedication that have led us to this extraordinary milestone. For five decades, NBT has flourished thanks to a caring and compassionate community, patrons who believed in the power of dance, and a devoted Board of Trustees; and with the utmost gratitude, we recognize the spirited leadership of our Co-Founder and Board Co-Chair Nancy Houssels, who remains at the heart of this cherished cultural institution.

Our life on the stage reflects a desire for artistry, a love for collaboration, and a passion and hope for the future. We take great pride in the breadth of performances over the years, and the dancers who brought them to life. We also know that training, education, and creating opportunities for youth through our Academy and Community Education programs is the foundation of our mission and the key to our success.

Your support of NBT, throughout the decades, has enabled us to change lives through this beautiful art form while elevating the cultural identify of our city. As we celebrate this remarkable time in our history, we begin a thrilling journey into the next 50 years. We sincerely thank you for lifting us to new heights with your loyal patronage, and we look forward to dancing into a dynamic new future, together.

–Beth Barbre, NBT President & CEO
–Roy Kaiser, NBT Artistic Director


Thank You

NBT wishes to thank Nevada Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities for their support of the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book which showcases NBT’s life on the stage for the past five decades. Those who attended NBT’s May 14 Anniversary celebration at The Smith Center were given a copy of this historical retrospective.