Practice makes perfect: An insider’s look at the Bolshoi

Olga Ivanova
For many visitors to Moscow, the Bolshoi Theatre is one of the architectural gems in the city along with the Red Square and the Kremlin, while a lucky few get to see a ballet performance at the iconic venue. RBTH goes one step further to give you a glimpse of the never-ending rehearsals, stage preparations, and the artists behind the great shows.

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The Bolshoi Theater is one of the world’s most known and loved cultural institutions.   A mecca for ballet lovers, its everyday life is filled with constant rehearsals and dance classes.

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Students and dancers dream of becoming a prima ballerina like Maya Plisetskaya or a premier like Nikolay Tsiskaridze and spend days and nights at the Bolshoi.

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The Bolshoi is always on the lookout for future prodigies and welcomes both Russian and foreign students.

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Joy Womack, an American who studied at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and now dances as a prima dancer with the Kremlin Ballet Theater, said “Russians have an extreme sense of tradition and passion” when it comes to ballet.

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Students believe that the rigorous training they undergo under the guidance of choreographers is worth it.

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Many children start to train at the age of nine, but many get enrolled in special studio ballet classes when they are as young as two and a half!

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Foreign students tell RBTH that Russian students work harder than them and are sometimes treated more harshly than foreigners.

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The Bolshoi Theater, which was founded in 1776, traditionally stages all-time ballet classics like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

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They also adapt classics of Russian literature such as ‘Hero of Our Time’ by Mikhail Lermontov.

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Making the dresses and costumes for ballet and opera requires special and rare skills, and a lot of manual work. This is why the Bolshoi has its own atelier for costume production. The Bolshoi’s ballet is also backed by a gifted orchestra- the biggest and the oldest in Russia, with more than 250 musicians.

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After suffering an injury and undergoing an operation, Tsiskaridze, a former premier of the Bolshoi Theater, is an instructor for the next generation of ballet dancers.

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Denis Rodkin, his student and a current premier at Bolshoi, said, “Tsiskaridze looked so strict that I thought I would never visit his class again.”

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Ballet is taught at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography, which is commonly known as the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. Many graduates go on to perform at prestigious venues such as the Bolshoi and St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theater.

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The modern renovation in 2005-11 included an improvement in acoustics and the recreation of the original imperial décor.

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The main building of the Bolshoi was designed by Joseph Bove, who was instrumental in the reconstruction of Moscow’s historic center after a major fire in 1812. The theater has showcased all kinds of performances, including, of course, the opera, since the Bolshoi is also the home of Russia’s best opera troupe.

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