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Slovak National Ballet

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If you're travelling in central Europe, the Slovak National Ballet is worth a visit. I had the great privilege of seeing almost all their productions from September 2007 - January 2008 while I was teaching in Bratislava on a Fulbright.

Their English-language web site is here:


They perform in two beautiful theatres. The historic opera house in the center of town was designed by the same architect who designed the Vienna State Opera House. The new opera house a few blocks down on the Danube is stunning.

Bratislava is an easy one-hour train ride from the Vienna south (Sudbanhof) station. You can buy a RT ticket that comes with a travel pass for the Bratislava tram system for under 10 Euros

Tickets are embarrassingly cheap: 4-16 Euros (about $6-24 at today's exchange rate): http://www.snd.sk/?ballet-5

These people have the classical arts in their bloodstream and you will be delighted at the calibre of the productions and the dancers.

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Thank you for the link, California. The commitment to ballet and dance is exceptional, especially considering the size of the country. The choice of repertory is interesting, too, including:

-- classical ballets;


-- folk/fairy tale ballets;


-- and more contemporary work, including a locally-produced choreography, works by Balanchine and Kudelka, and even a ballet about Andy Warhol, America's best known artist of Slovak descent.


I was surprised by the scale of the new opera/ballet theater (2007), which shows a financial commitment that seems extraordinary for such a small country.


Is there anything that impessed you especially, California?

I notice that they tour to Czech Republic (Brno) and to Hungary (Budapest). Have any of our European members seen them? What did you think?

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The Slovak Ministry of Culture seems to spend most of its money supporting the country's major arts groups -- ballet, theatre, opera, symphony. Locals I knew at the University see these art groups as an important part of their national heritage.

The beautiful new opera house is located on the site of the Nazi's Apollo gas refinery, which was bombed by the western Allies before the Red Army invaded from the east. The Communists wanted to build an opera house on the site as far back as the 1950s, but couldn't find the money. I understand that the funding to build it came largely from Ballymore, an Irish development company, after Slovakia joined the EU in 2004, as a complement to their riverfront development Eurovea (convention center, condos, shopping, hotel). http://www.eurovea.sk/new_en/index.php

The dancers seem most at home in the Petipa repertory (e.g., Swan Lake, Raymonda Variations). Several ballets based on Slovak folk themes seem designed to give the company a distinctive identity and appeal to national pride and were popular with families and children.

Their Serenade premiered in fall 2007, the first time any Balanchine had been performed in the country. John Clifford and Patricia Barker set the piece. The performances sold out quickly and were quite an event in Bratislava. The dancers are not familiar with Balanchine and will need time to get comfortable with the style, but I see that the Tchaikovsky pas de deux was added to the repertory this year.

I loved Warhol, a full-evening ballet by their director Mário Radačovský, a Slovak who danced with Les Grand Ballets Canadiens in Montreal and also with Kylian's Netherlands Dans Theatre. (Kylian is Czech, of course, and a local hero in Slovakia.) Warhol is great fun for American audiences. Warhol's parents are from Slovakia and he is something of a national hero -- statues, exhibits, posters. But the Slovak dance audience didn't seem to grasp the pop culture elements of Warhol's life in America (paparazzi, Studio 54, soup cans) and it wasn't an audience favorite. My favorite segment was the Dancing Marilyn's, with the corps in that billowy white dress we know from the movies.

A small, but significant, thing I noticed at performances was the presence of as many young boys as young girls in the audience. Ballet does not seem to have any stigma there for men. The company has several child-oriented ballets that show the male dancers in very athletic roles that the kids seemed to love. Snow White and the Seven Racers had a male corps racing through the aisles on tiny bikes chasing the witch, with little kids loving every minute. Whatever works!

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