To see a show at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater you can simply go online and buy a ticket at the official website. But where’s the fun in that? And why pay such a hefty price? Here’s the story of how I got my ticket to the best ballet in the world.
When arriving in Moscow, I heard murmurings of a mysterious method for students to acquire tickets to the Bolshoi Theater by showing up in a line somewhere at 3:00 in the afternoon. Last Friday, Oliver, Julia B. and I decided to do just that. After class we took the metro to Охотный Ряд/Ohotny Ryad station, which lets out right in front of the Bolshoi. To the left of the theater we spotted a building with a sign in front that read кассы/kassy, or “ticket office”.
It was 3:00 exactly. We approached the ticket office, and a sign on the door told us that the office was closed until 4:00. No one was around except for an older lady and a young woman who looked to be a college student, dressed in every-day clothing. As Oliver, Julia and I discussed what to do, the young woman asked us, “Are you students?” We answered affirmatively, after which she handed us a torn-out piece of notebook paper. “Write your name on this,” she told us. On the sheet of paper were already written 31 names, scrawled with different pens in a range of illegible Russian handwriting. Shrugging, we added our names, numbered 32, 33 and 34. The young woman told us to come back at 4:00. What?!?
We returned at 3:55. Student-age people milled around in front of the ticket office, chatting. The young woman we’d talked to still sat where we saw her earlier. At 4:00, the young woman stood up at the top of the steps leading to the ticket office, and the students in the area gathered around her. Muttering that she had a quiet voice, the young woman gave the list of names to someone standing nearby, and that person proceeded to call out each name on the list. Everyone duly formed a line in front of the steps after hearing their name.
When all names were called, a security guard came out of the ticket office, and he began to allow students to enter, eight or ten at a time. Finally, someone official! When Oliver, Julia and I entered the ticket office, we were happy to discover that the rumor was true, and these tickets only cost 100 rubles. For context, that’s a mere $1.61 at the current U.S. exchange rate. All it took was a quick flash of my Moscow State University student ID, and the ticket seller handed me my golden ticket.
With tickets in hand at 4:15, we killed some time at a café and returned for the ballet at 6:45. It took us a little while to realize that the “seats” listed on our tickets as стоячее место/stoyacheye mesto, “standing place”, really did mean that we were about to stand for the three-hour ballet. However, we didn’t mind at all; the ballet, Легенда о любви/Legenda o lyoobvi or “Legend of Love”, was INCREDIBLE. The performance was easily the best dance I’ve ever seen. Perched atop the highest row of the highest balcony (of which there are six), we had a view of the whole auditorium, the orchestra pit, and, of course, the ballet itself. Binoculars purchased for a whopping 150 rubles allowed us to see the dancers as if from the front row.
Who the young woman was who handed us the list of names, we’ll never know. My recommendation for future students who want to go to the Bolshoi Theater – which should be every student who ever finds him or herself in Moscow – is to do what I did. Show up at a ticket office and go with it. Non-students may also be able to acquire tickets in this manner; I saw several adults in the ticket office who seemed to be waiting for all the students to get tickets before they could vie for their own. Overall, the process was in fitting with a common theme I have discovered in Russia: even if something happens circuitously or unintuitively, it happens nonetheless, so give it a go and you won’t be disappointed.