ENTERTAINMENT IN MOSCOW

Moscow offers many forms of entertainment, from great theatre productions, operas and ballets to a wide choice of lively nightlife venues. Attending a performance at the Bolshoy remains a must for opera and ballet buffs, although the main stage is closed while undergoing refurbishment. Other theatres put on an enormous range of productions, including musicals and shows for children. Moscow has several cinemas screening foreign-language films. They usually show the latest releases only a few weeks after they are premiered in the West. The city also has over 300 nightclubs and many late-night bars, some of which have live bands. In addition, there is plenty of free entertainment from street performers, especially on ulitsa Arbat.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Moscow does not have any conventional tourist information offices. However, listings for events such as films, plays, concerts and exhibitions, together with extensive lists of restaurants and nightclubs can be found in the Friday edition of the English-language newspaper The Moscow Times. Restaurants and nightclubs are also listed in the English-language The Exile. Both are free and available at large hotels. Those who can read Russian can take advantage of the magazines Afisha and Dozug, both of which have comprehensive listings sections.
Visitors should note that the safest way to get back from late-night events is in an official taxi booked in advance.

BOOKING TICKETS

By far the easiest way to book tickets for a concert, a ballet, an opera or the theatre is through one of the main international hotels, even for visitors not staying there. Both Western-style and Russian-run hotels will usually offer this service, However tickets bought in this way often more expensive than those available elsewhere. Ticket-booking desks in hotels accept payment by major credit cards, but many will charge a fee for doing so. Visitors who speak Russian will be able to buy cheaper tickets from a theatre ticket kiosk (teatralnaya kassa). These kiosks are scattered all round the city and in metro stations. A particularly useful ticket agency is located on Theatre Square.
Another alternative is to book tickets at the venues. Although these tickets are usually the cheapest, it can require a lot of patience to obtain them since ticket offices are often open at unpredictable hours.
There are ticket touts outside most events, especially those at the Bolshoy Theatre. However, there is a risk that their tickets are counterfeit and they will almost certainly be overpriced.

THE MOSCOW STATE CIRCUS

Russians have always loved the circus. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was the most popular theatrical entertainment. Troupes travelled round the country performing mostly satirical shows. Today the renowned Moscow State Circus has its permanent home in Moscow. It is famous for its clowns, the breathtaking stunts of its acrobats and trapeze artists and its performing animals. The latter often include tigers jumping through burning hoops and bears riding bicycles, and animal-lovers should be aware that they may find some acts distressing. The original venue, now known as the Old Circus, was built in 1880 by Albert Salamonskiy for his private troupe. Salamonskiy's Circus became the Moscow State Circus in 1919. The New Circus was built in 1973. Both venues are now in use.

CHILDREN'S ENTERTAINMENT

Traditional Russian entertainments for children have always included the puppet theatre, the zoo and the circus. Moscow has two puppet theatres: the Obraztsov Puppet Theatre, which puts on matinee performances for children, and the Moscow Puppet Theatre. The Nataliya Sats Children's Musical Theatre performs excellent shows, great for children of all ages.
The Russian Academic Youth Theatre puts on a range of performances suitable for children from the age of seven.
Moscow Zoo is a great favourite but, unfortunately, the animals often look underfed and cramped in their cages.
At Arlecchino Children's Club children can play with toys and computer games or be entertained by clowns.
Miracle City at Gorky Park is an outdoor, Western-style amusement complex, which opens from late spring until late October. Children under 1.2 m (4 ft) tall are given free entry to all the children's rides, which include merry-go-rounds, trains and mini racing cars. There are also more high-octane rides, such as roller coasters.
Also in Gorky Park is the Buran Shuttle, a space shuttle that, since its one unmanned test flight, has been converted into a simulator. Would-be astronauts can also sample the tubes of foods, such as soups and pates, that cosmonauts typically eat.

SPECTATOR SPORTS

Traditionally, the most popular sports in Russia are football and hockey. Important matches and championships are held at the Dynamo Central House of Sports, the Krylatskoye Sports Complex and the Olympic Sports Complex. On the whole, Moscow's football rounds are safe, although hooliganism is beginning to become a problem. Krylatskoye also has a race-course and a canal where rowing races take place. The Olympic Sports Complex is Moscow's main venue for tennis tournaments.


THE ARTS IN MOSCOW

From June until late September most of Moscow's concert halls and theatres close and the city's orchestras, theatre and ballet companies perform elsewhere in Russia and abroad. However, for the rest of the year the city has a rich and varied cultural scene. The Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow's oldest and most famous opera and ballet house, offers an impressive repertoire. Numerous drama theatres put on a variety of plays in Russian, ranging from the conventional to the avant-garde. For non-Russian speakers there is a wide choice of events, ranging from folk dance and gypsy music to classical concerts by top international musicians. Evening performances at most venues begin at 7pm or 7:30pm, while matinees generally start around midday.

BALLET AND OPERA

There are numerous venues in Moscow where visitors can see high-quality ballet and opera. Undoubtedly the most famous is the Bolshoy Theatre, originally built in 1780. Despite two major fires, the building remains impressive and stands on its original site. Today the bolshoy is still the best venue in Moscow in which to see opera and ballet. Its magnificent main auditorium accommodates some 2,500 people. World-famous ballets, including Giselle by Adolphe Adam and Swan Lake and The Nutcracker by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, have been danced here by the company. The theatre's operatic repertoire includes a number of works by Russian composers. Among them are Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky, The Queen of Spades and Eugene Onegin by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Sadko by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
Another much younger company, the Kremlin Ballet Company, can be seen at the State Kremlin Palace in the Kremlin. This gigantic steel and glass building, originally constructed in 1961 as a convention hall for the Communist Party, has a 6,000-seat auditorium. It is a prime venue for those wishing to see visiting Western opera singers, as well as for ballet.
Less grandiose, but nevertheless high-quality, operas and ballets are performed at the Helicon Opera, the Novaya Opera and the Stanislavskiy and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theatre. As its name implies, the Operetta Theatre performs operettas, while the Gnesin Music Academy Opera Studio stages more experimental productions.

CLASSICAL MUSIC

Moscow has a strong tradition of classical music and has long been home to several top international music events. One of Moscow's most famous classical music venues is the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. The main feature of this large circular auditorium is a giant pipe organ, whfch has 7,800 pipes and weighs approximately 20 tonnes. It was made in Czechoslovakia and was installed in 1959.
The Moscow Conservatory is both an educational establishment and a venue for concerts of classical music. It was founded in 1866 and Pyotr Tchaikovsky, then a young composer at the beginning of his brilliant career, taught here for 12 years. Nowadays the conservatory has more than 1,000 music students at any one time.
The Bolshoy Zal (Great Hall) is used for orchestral concerts, both by the conservatory's resident orchestra and visiting orchestras. The Malyy Zal (Small Hall) is used for recitals by smaller ensembles. Over the years many prominent musicians have performed here and every four years the conservatory plays host to the prestigious Tchaikovsky International Competition.
Moscow's most prestigious classical music gathering is the annual Svyatoslav Richter December Nights Festival. Held in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, the concerts attract a star-studded array of Russian and foreign musicians.
In summer both indoor and outdoor concerts are held outside Moscow at Kuskovo on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

THEATRE

Moscow has more than 60 theatres, most of which are repertory. This means that a different production is staged every night. Listings can be found in the Friday edition of The Moscow Times or in The Exile.
The Moscow Arts Theatre stages a wide repertoire, but it is particularly famous for its productions of Anton Chekhov's plays, such as The Seagull. In contrast, the Lenkom Theatre produces musicals and plays by contemporary Russian writers. Russia's first drama theatre, the Malyy Theatre, across the street from the Bolshoy, played a major role in the development of Russian theatre.
The Obraztsov Puppet Theatre is as entertaining for adults as it is for children. It was founded in 1931 and is named after its first director, Sergey Obraztsov. The theatre's repertoire is outstanding and most of the plays can be enjoyed without a knowledge of the Russian language. Evening performances may only be open to those over the age of 18.
Performances at the Gypsy Theatre consist of traditional gypsy dancing and singing. Performances of Russian folk dancing are held at various venues throughout Moscow.
The Taganka Theatre, favourite of Russian president Vladimir Putin, has some excellent productions such as works by Mikhail Bulgakov.
The Mossoviet Theatre is also among the city's best, showing alternative interpretations of Shakespeare and excellent productions of Russian classics.

FILM

The Russian film industry flourished under the Soviet regime and Lenin himself recognized the value of films for conveying messages. Specially commissioned films shown throughout Russia on modified trains, for example, informed much of the rural population that there had been a revolution in the capital. Until the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, the film industry was run by the state. Films were subsidized and their subject matter closely monitored. Russian film-makers now have artistic freedom, but suffer from a shortage of funding. Cinemas show both Hollywood blockbusters and Russian releases. After a period of stagnation, Russian cinema is enjoying a real boom, and domestically produced films are now more popular than imports.
Many cinemas have out-of-date equipment, muffled sound and uncomfortable seats, but two central Russian-language cinemas, the Rossiya and the Udarnik, offer digital sound and good facilities. The Arts Cinema is one of the oldest in Moscow. Its sound system is not as good as those at the Rossiya and the Udarnik, but it remains one of the city's most popular cinemas. It shows the latest Russian releases and Western films in Russian. For English language cinema, the Dome Cinema and 35mm are the only options within the city centre. The Dome shows only one or two films a month. 35mm screens various films in English, although not very often and sometimes at peculiar times. Outside the centre Kinostar De Lux at Mega in Khimki offers screenings in a modern Western-style cinema.
Films from Europe and India can be seen in their original languages at the Illuzion and the Cinema Centre. The latter is also the venue for the Moscow International Film Festival.
Tickets for films can only be bought at the cinemas themselves. At most, payment is in cash, although the Dome Cinema accepts credit cards.


MUSIC AND NIGHTLIFE

Under the Communist regime, Moscow's nightlife was practically non-existent and those clubs and bars that did exist were for a privileged elite. Today, nightlife in Moscow is booming. Foreign bands, DJs and performers of all types now visit the city regularly, while the quality of the domestic scene has improved markedly. The variety of venues is similarly impressive and ranges from bars where you can see local rock bands to glitzy casinos and late-night clubs playing the latest techno music. The Russian take on modern dance music is noteworthy, as Russians like to party hard and long into the night. Venues can be packed and prices high, but it is an experience not to be missed.

ROCK VENUES

After years of being isolated from major Western pop and rock acts, Muscovites can at last get to see big-name artists in the flesh. Many of the more famous acts from abroad, as well as the best in local talent, play at clubs such as Apelsin, Tochka and Sixteen Tons. Apelsin is a fairly commercial venue with its own sushi bar and bowling alley attached. Tochka caters more to the student crowd, while Sixteen Tons favours alternative and indie music.
Among the smaller venues, Bunker, Kitaiskiy Lyotchik Djao Da, Gogol, Art Garbage and Ikra showcase less well known acts. Djao Da is good for acoustic music; Bunker, Ikra and Art Garbage are slightly larger and have a more sophisticated feel.
Major rock concerts usually take place at either Olympiiskiy Stadium or Luzhniki Stadium.

JAZZ, BLUES AND LATIN VENUES

Moscow has a vibrant jazz and blues scene, with clubs such as B2 featuring a live act most evenings. B2 is a one-stop shop for a night out and also has a pool hall, sushi bar and a disco. Other clubs worth checking out are Woodstock MKhat and Roadhouse; both put on good live music, including acts from abroad. Moscow's best club for jazz and blues is Le Club, but it's also the priciest. Cabana, a Brazilian bar and restaurant, is a good bet for Latin American bands and hosts lively Salsa nights, as does Che. Head to Zhisn Zemelyatin Lyudi, a friendly venue, which has live swing bands several times a week.

NIGHTCLUBS AND DISCOS

The range of clubs to be found in Moscow is now on a par with other major capital cities and new clubs open every month. As elsewhere, nothing really gets going until around 11pm. Entrance is usually cheaper or free before this time although the queues can be long. Most clubs don't close until 4am; some are open until 6am at weekends.
Domestic preference is still for bass-heavy house music, with trance also becoming popular. For those who love more mainstream pop and disco, there are large clubs such as Zona offering a relaxed vibe and midweek student nights. Foreign DJs often perform at clubs such as Propaganda and Fabrique. Propaganda is one of the best known clubs, and plays a variety of styles from the latest electronic sounds to old school disco. Fabrique plays mostly house music. House music is blended with more up-tempo Latin beats at Karma Bar, while Kult offers more urban grooves, including drum & bass and four-to-the-floor techno.
A number of Moscow's leading clubs, such as Na Lesnitse, XIII, A Priori and Slava, cater to Moscow's "new-rich", with prices and cover charges to match. Slava is located away from the centre in a large complex and is worth a visit, if only to spot the partying catwalk models and Russian gangsters.
The welcoming Doug and Marty's Boar House and Papa Johns are more akin to low-key boozers than full-on nightclubs.
Keep in mind that many of Moscow's clubs have an unspoken dress code. Gone are the days when simply being Western was enough to gain entry to any club and the more upmarket venues are likely to look unfavourably on anyone wearing trainers and jeans. At some of the smaller clubs, however, such as Kult, looking too neat could also result in getting turned away by the doormen.

ART CAFES

Some of the city's more unusual clubs are the so-called "art cafes", such as Art Garbage or Bilingua, which promote an eclectic mix of entertainment. One night there might be live music, and the next an alternative fashion show or an avant-garde film. Vodka Bar has English-language comedy nights midweek, wonderfully kitsch decor and a great bar. The bohemian FAQ Cafe is a warren of cosy rooms and features concerts on weekends. Many of tire art cafes are also good places to visit for a relaxed meal.

CASINOS

Moscow has some fantastic casinos. Visitors should exercise caution, however, as there are also numerous unsavoury ones, which are best avoided. New Russians love to gamble, and entrance fees and chip prices can be steep. Even if you don't intend to play, it can be entertaining to visit and soak up the atmosphere. Casinos worthy of note include Shangri La, which has excellent entertainment, New York, Jazz Town and the Udarnik Casino. None are cheap, but all are safe and foreigner-friendly.