Moscow & St. Petersburg: If you like ballet

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Classical ballet is the only art form that never really went dissident in Russia. Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, fell for the charms of ballerina Matilda Kshessinskaya, and from then on, through the Communist era and into the Putin years, ballet and especially ballerinas have been beyond criticism and free of oppression. As ballet has continued to thrive under state sponsorship, it has become an essential part of any official visit, as much a part of protocol as a trip to the war memorials.

Russian ballet is known for its exquisite blend of expressiveness, razor-sharp technique, and ethereal flair. Visiting ballet professionals envy both coordination and torso, the two strongest elements of Russian ballet training. Russian classical ballet, with its antique poetic charm, has preserved its precious legacy without becoming old-fashioned.

Swan Lake. See this signature ballet at the Bolshoi (Moscow; photo, top) or Mariinsky (St. Petersburg) theaters.

Sleeping Beauty. This marvel of 19th-century choreography has been meticulously restored in its original form at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.

The Nutcracker. The Bolshoi, Mariinsky, and other companies perform this Christmas classic year round.

Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg. Formerly the Imperial Ballet School, Russia’s most prestigious classical ballet academy is alma mater to Anna Pavlova, George Balanchine, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. It has a wonderful museum.