How to see a Russian Ballet at Moscow’s State Kremlin Palace

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

While walking on Moscow’s artsy Arbatskaya street, I noticed a poster that said “Bolshoi Ballet company presents, The Nutcracker.” It was about four years ago but I am going to write about it as if it happened yesterday.

Now although I had never seen a ballet before, I knew I wanted to see young men and women with long legs jump around the stage on their toes while wearing funky costumes. I was instantly excited; The Nutcracker is a very famous ballet production and the Bolshoi ballet is one of the best companies in the world. I bought tickets in no time, I couldn’t miss the chance to see them perform on their home turf.

1. Find the venue: State Kremlin Palace

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Built to function as a modern arena for Communist Party meetings, the State Kremlin Palace is an iconic building located in Moscow’s Kremlin. After walking under the majestic arch of the Troitskaya tower entrance and not making attempts to humor the guards who stare at you with a fixed gaze, you’ll see the – peculiarly Soviet styled – State Palace immediately to your right. It is surrounded by other important looking administrative buildings such as the Arsenal, the palace of amusement, royal orthodox churches and cool installations like the Tsar cannon and Tsar bell. Young soldiers loiter around, with guns dangling from their shoulders, looking at you with curiosity and a serious expression that dares you to mess with them. Obviously I didn’t dare.

The palace is located inside the Kremlin, i.e. at the heart of Moscow. The closest metro stations are Biblioteka and Aleksandrovsky Sod although a number of subway lines and stations crisscross around the kremlin. Plus each station has multiple exits, so not to worry too much, you can’t miss the Kremlin.

↑ Enormous coat check counters and concourse leading to stairs that go to various levels. Everything has a soviet scale to it.

2. Homework: The Nutcracker at the Bolshoi theater ballet

Bolshoi, which translates to big or grand in Russian, is Moscow’s, and by extension, Russia’s most iconic theatre. Since its Soviet heydays, this immaculately decorated theatre has hosted some of the finest classical concerts, be it music, dance or drama. When I was traveling in Russia, this place was under renovations, so performances were moved to the Kremlin Palace.

The Nutcracker is a two-act ballet based on the story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” in which a young girl’s favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, whisks her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls. The Russian ballet rendition is perhaps the most popular ballet in the world.

I was glad I read this story; otherwise it would have been completely unintelligible, between all the singing and dancing in fancy costumes. Unlike an opera, there are no subtitles.

3. Dress up and find me some kids

People were dressed extremely well which, having travelled in Russia for the past three weeks, wasn’t a surprise. What caught me off guard was the disproportionately large number of kids attending the ballet. There must have been two or three kids for each adult. I imagine it was a school excursion day for kids to get some proper culture into them. Those youtube videos of hiphop have no class! LOL

PS: I am a bit scared of kids, pets and other irrational creatures in general.

↑ Chaos during interval. Kids started screaming with excitement and started running upstairs. What was happening up there? it was a mystery to me.

During the intermission at the end of act 1, I stepped outside the concert hall and was faced with a terrifying sight. There was a deluge of kids, I don’t know where they came from, but they were everywhere. On scaling the columns, dangling from the ceiling, crawling on the floor… okay maybe that was a different nightmare. Everyone was rushing upstairs with a sense of panic and emergency. Adults were shouting at the kids too, in a very un-northamerican manner, probably trying to reign them in but in vain. I was curious to see what was on the upper floor. I went there only to find a great dining hall, a noisiest one ever. There was lots of running around, tripping, crying, laughing and excitement in general, I guess food was the biggest attraction there. I wasn’t sure if my ticket included food, and also since I was intimidated by the children, I stayed away.

4. Find you seat and sit back for an enchanting performance

I bought a ticket for a seat in the balcony. I bought it a day in advance since it was the weekend.

The grandiose structure of the State Palace is quite impressive although I didn’t feel like it had a distinctive character. The building is a modern glass and concrete design, with nearly half of it (17 metres) submerged underground. Wonder what secret meetings happen down there. The main hall is able to hold six thousand people and its acoustics were considered to be the most advanced at the time. Over the years this was the main place for mass state events (particularly party congresses). Presently it is used for official and popular concerts.

Ushers led me to the concert hall since I couldn’t figure out my seat numbering scheme. As I made my way to the balcony and looked at the expanse before me, I felt very tiny. The theatre holds six thousand people and it was packed. And very noisy as well.

A lady in her 30s was sitting to my left. She was from a little town called Suzdal (beautiful Church complex btw!) which is few hours away from Moscow and part of the Golden Ring cities which I would visit later. I think it was her first time in Moscow (or something like that) because she seemed quite excited. So much that she didn’t notice that my Russian was accented; at least initially.

↑ “Ethnic” characters: Chocolate from Spain, Coffee from Arabia, and Tea from China

Thoroughly satisfied, with a number of goosebumps inducing performances, I left the theatre with a big smile on my face. It was probably the second ballet performance I had seen and left craving for more.

5. Bonus: Checkout the Kremlin and blog about it

Since the State Kremlin palace theater is located within the Kremlin complex, you can stroll inside for free after the concert. I think it’s a great deal! There is so much to see inside the Kremlin that it will keep you occupied for half a day easily.

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery