Examining Russian Ballet & Where To See Live Performances

This bit of Russian history is en pointe.

We all know that ballet is an integral part of Russian culture, now it’s time to find out how and why the country became the epicenter of a dance that originated in the West.

Peter the Great brought ballet to Russia in the 18th century by replacing Russian folk dances with ballet, in an attempt to westernize the country. Ballet teachers from Italy and France soon began to teach in the new Russian ballet schools that opened in Moscow and St. Petersburg. A notable difference between the culture surrounding ballet in Russia versus in the West, however, was that from the very beginning, ballet was open to everyone, no matter their social status. It was not an elitist activity reserved for the rich, but an art form to be shared with all Russian citizens. Many ballet schools were even associated with orphanages, and theaters had wooden bench seating sections called rayok with lower priced tickets which allowed non-wealthy people to attend ballet performances. Before long, ballet became the most popular form of entertainment in Russia among nobility and proletariat alike.

Original Nutcracker russian ballet
Original Nutcracker.

The first Russian ballet company was founded in around 1740 at St. Petersburg’s Imperial School of Ballet. The Mariinsky Ballet was directed by the French ballet master Jean-Baptiste Landé. This company succeeded in bringing Russian ballet to international fame and remains one of the most popular ballet companies to date. Its main choreographer for 50 years was Marius Petipa, who most notably choreographed The Nutcracker and a famous revival of Swan Lake.

Despite Russian ballet’s origins in westernization, this Eastern ballet style maintained many traditional Russian influences, creating a new and distinct ballet technique. Stricter rules were placed on ballet during the rise of the Soviet Union, and many companies, such as the Bolshoi Ballet, were forced to fall in line. Throughout this era, Russia-centric performances like Ivan the Terrible became immensely popular. Some dancers, on the other hand, left the country to escape these new sanctions, and began the spread of the Russian ballet style to the rest of the world.

Большой театр России / Bolshoi Theatre of Russia
FACEBOOK Большой театр России / Bolshoi Theatre of Russia

Today, ballet remains a pillar of Russian art and culture. While the training required is notoriously difficult, some of the best dancers in the world have come from Russia for good reason. The country is still known for its remarkable ballet, in part due to the art form’s humble beginnings that made it accessible to all.

Here’s a list of theaters where you can see some of the best Russian ballet performances in the country:

Mariinsky Theatre

Theatre Square, 1, St Petersburg, Russia, 190000

Mariinsky Theatre russian ballet
Mariinsky Theatre. Photo by mariinsky on Instagram

The Mariinsky Theatre, known as the Kirov Theatre throughout the Soviet era, opened in 1860 as the hub for Russian music and dance during the late 19th century. This acclaim made it home to the renowned Imperial Russian Ballet, or Mariinsky Ballet company as it is known today. This company is respected as one of the greatest in the world. Each year, thousands of people travel from all around to see performances by the Mariinsky Ballet.

Bolshoi Theatre

Theatre Square, 1, Moscow, Russia, 125009

Bolshoi Theatre russian ballet
Bolshoi Theatre. Photo by bolshoi_theatre on Instagram

The Bolshoi Ballet company is one of the oldest in the world, founded in 1776. The dancers began by performing in private homes, but started using the building that would eventually become the Bolshoi Theatre almost 50 years later. The theatre itself has gone through extensive renovations to become the beauty it is today. It’s also a repertory theatre, meaning that it introduces approximately three new ballets every season and rotates on any given night. This is great for those who like to go to the ballet often, as there is something new playing all the time.

Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre

Ulitsa Bol'shaya Dmitrovka, 17, Moscow, Russia, 125009

Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre
Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre. Photo by stanmus on Instagram

The Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Theatre was opened in 1941 by two prominent figures in the performing arts community, who merged companies to create a theatre known for its modern celebration of the classics. Although the theatre started out as a place for opera and musical theatre, it soon became known for its ballet performances as well when the former Moscow Art Ballet joined the theatre. It is now considered one of the most iconic theatres in the city for its blend of traditional and contemporary art styles.

Mikhailovsky Theatre

Theatre Square, 1, St Petersburg, Russia, 190000

Mikhailovsky Theatre
Mikhailovsky Theatre. Photo by mikhailovskytheatre on Instagram

The Mikhailovsky Theatre, established in 1833, did not originally have its own resident company. Instead, it was used by French companies and occasionally, the Mariinsky and Alexandrinsky Theatre companies. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the theatre’s personal ballet company was formed. Today, it has over 30 ballets on its repertoire, and the theatre itself has been recognized as St. Peterburg’s most prestigious musical theatre.

Meghan St. Pierre

Content Editor Associate

Meghan is a native of South Florida who loves nature and landscape photography. Her favorite travel activities are getting lost in new cities and trying local desserts. She has been to 22 countries, and her favorites have been Sweden and Denmark so far.

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