Everything There Is to Know About the Bolshoi Ballet

By Ren Orin , last updated December 19, 2011

For those who know ballet, Bolshoi means something special. In Russian, the word means ‘big,’ which is exactly what the Bolshoi Ballet is. It’s a big name, arguably one of the best companies in the world. It operates out of a big theater, the Bolshoi Theatre, in a big ballet city, Moscow. And it has a big legacy. Some of the ballet greats danced for the Bolshoi; the name carries with it the weight of the history of the dance form. Read on for everything you need to know about Bolshoi Ballet.


The Bolshoi Ballet can trace its history to before the founding of the United States of America. The company cites it's origin in March of 1776 when Catherine II signed an order granting Prince Peter Urusov the maintenance of performances, masquerades, balls and other events at the Bolshoi Theatre. This is marks the founding of the Bolshoi Theatre, the epic space which is now the home of the Bolshoi Ballet.

The Ballet company itself has a history that’s less defined. Most mark Alexander Gorsky’s appointment as Ballet Master in 1900 as the beginning of the Bolshoi that is known today. This is definitely when the company began making the iconic work that it is identified with today. Don Quixote, Swan Lake, Coppélia, and Giselleare among the famous Bolshoi reinventions of this time period. In 1917, when Moscow became the capitol of Russia, the Bolshoi became the primary ballet company.

The Bolshoi Ballet is often compared to the other old and famous ballet company in Russia, the Imperial Russian Ballet, which has been renamed the Mariinsky Ballet. The Mariinsky Ballet is associated with a pure classical style and an emphasis on tradition. The Bolshoi, on the other hand has a bit more flavor. It’s dramatic and intense, colorful and bright, and above all, big.

Current Season

This year’s season is a balance between classics and more contemporary work. The 236th season of the Bolshoi includes the iconic Don Quixote and Giselle,but also a significant number of premiers, including Cinque, by Mauro Bigontsetti as well as a handful of pieces that were premiered in the past ten years. If you’d like to see the Bolshoi Ballet, you can attend one of their performances of Coppélia at the Kennedy Center from May 29 to June 3, 2012.

Of course, a company with a legacy and history as long as the Bolshoi is not without its dramas. The current artistic director, Sergei Filin graduated from the Bolshoi Ballet’s training program, the Moscow Academy of Choregraphy. His predecessor, Yuri Burlaka left as soon as his contract expired in the spring of 2011, during a major renovation of the theatre, which was finished in the fall. In November, Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, two of the Bolshoi’s stars, left to work for the Mariinsky.

But with the caliber of ballet that the Bolshoi creates and the legacy associated with its 236 seasons, there’s no doubt that the Bolshoi will continue to be a big name in ballet for years to come.

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