Mariinsky Theater Ballet, St Petersburg, Russia

Ballet at the Mariinsky Theater is a highlight of a trip to St Petersburg. The ornate theater, with its stacked balconies decked in gold relief and palatial lounges where well-dressed guests sip champagne, is an event to be experienced, not just a show to be watched. Sure, there are plenty of tourists and if you don’t have your Sunday best on you won’t be turned away.

We saw Don Quixote, a classical ballet originally produced in Moscow in 1869. It’s a fun colorful show with an easy to understand storyline which requires little explanation. Boy and girl fall in love, father opposes union and wants girl to marry rich Prince, boy fakes his own death resulting in the father approving the marriage. Everyone lives happily ever after and there is lots of dancing throughout.

The comical Pancho, Don Quixote’s sidekick, and the wiry Prince with his affected gestures add levity to the production. The skilled dancers are amazing to watch in person with an unparalleled combination of strength and grace. The pageantry of whirling colorful costumes set to music is not to be missed. If you have never been to a ballet you should go at least once.

Swan Lake at the Mariinsky

Swan Lake is the most popular ballet in town, especially for tourists, with good reason. The swans are amazing. The flocks of ballerinas effortlessly fluttering about the stage is a delight to experience. The rest of the show is good as well. The main characters were incredibly talented.

Knowing the story ahead of time makes watching the performance more enjoyable as it is difficult to follow from just watching the dancers. Of course it’s a love story. The prince must find a bride, but falls in love with a maiden who has been placed under a curse. She is a swan by day and a maiden only at night. Complications ensue. Wikipedia has a good write-up with an interesting list of the various endings over the years, everything from all the main characters die to everyone becomes good friends and lives happily ever after.

Note that tickets for Swan Lake are both harder to get and more expensive.

Tips on Buying Tickets

Tickets are easily purchased online directly from the theater and you can use an electronic ticket on your phone to enter the theater. However, for some productions that are less commonly purchased by foreigners, such as Don Quixote, the website reverts to Russian when paying for the tickets.

Be careful when choosing a seat. The orchestra seats which should be the better seats do not have the normal offset seat configuration. Seats are directly one behind the other, meaning if you are seated behind a tall person you will spend the entire evening trying to look around his head.

The other problem is the floor is not sloped as much as in some other theaters, which only exacerbates the problems. It may be better to get a front row box seat than a seat further back in the orchestra. We were in row 8, which should be a good seat, but I was seated behind the tallest guy in the audience and spent the evening peering from behind this human pillar.

August 2019

For links to all the posts in this series see the St Petersburg page.

For more posts on travel in Russia see the Russia page.