Dushanbe is not known for being an entertainment hub, even by local standards. The absence of a developed middle class with disposable income has severely limited the growth of the entertainment sector, such that those options that are available are either the legacy of Soviet policies to introduce high culture to the masses (such as the ballet and Russian-language drama theatres), or more recent initiatives spearheaded by NGOs.
That said, if you are prepared to engage with the city's cultural offerings with a sense of humour, or to make your own entertainment with friends, there are places to go and things to be seen. Many things do indeed become more entertaining with the lubrication of a small amount of vodkaand many expatriates and short-term visitors find themselves developing an unexpected fondness for Dushanbe's less sophisticated diversions.
Aini Opera and Ballet Theatre (28 Rudaki; tel. 14 422; ticket office 08.00-20.00) Widely agreed to have the finest interior in the city, the Aini Opera and Ballet Theatre is a white neoclassical building established in 1940s to host folk dances and ballet. Many of the early ballerinas and singers trained at prestigious conservatoires in Moscow and the standard of performance was consequently high. The first Tajik ballet was performed here, though Russian and classical productions tended (as they do today) to receive a better reception from the audience.
Opera and ballet performances continue to take place at the theatre, with the accompaniment of a substantially sized orchestra, and are well worth the TJS10 ticket fee. The quality may not be as high as it once was, but it is still a memorable experience and, if you happen to catch Swan Lake, you'll no doubt be as confused .is we were by the alternative Soviet ending. Regardless of whether or not a performance is scheduled, be sure to take a look inside the building: the central marble staircase is particularly impressive, as is the gilt-laden auditorium.
Bactria Cultural Centre (15 Akademik Radjapov; tel. 19 289; www.bactria.net; 09.00-18.00) With the support of the NGO ACTED (www.acted.org), the centre hosts a lively programme of concerts and music workshops and encourages musical collaboration between Tajik artists. It also has a visual-arts display space and supports arts education, language teaching and i innervation. Runs an annual film festival. Recent highlights have included Rock 'n' Roll Day and a musical festival. Concert tickets cost TJS10.
Borbat Concert Hall (26 Ismoili Somoni) Close to Lake Komosol, this venue hosts occasional performances of Tajik music. Tickets cost from TJS5.
Lahuti Tajik Academic Drama Theatre (86 Rudaki; tel 13 751) Established in parallel with the Mayakovsky Drama Theatre in the early 20th century, this theatre is named in honour of A Lahuti, the Tajik writer and dramatist who was the first to translate Shakespeare's plays into Tajik. The Red Army Theatre was evacuated here during World War II, and in the decades that followed, the theatre's company toured across the Soviet Union and even to Alghanistan. The company continues to premiere new works in Tajik, as well as to perform Tajik and Russian classics. Tickets cost TJS10-12.
Lukhtak State Puppet Theatre (54/1 Shotemur) Established in 1985, this professional theatre, which has toured globally, has a repertoire of more than 40 productions, including a large number of contemporary works. Although some performances are specifically geared towards children, others are designed for an adult audience. The theatre's facade is a wonderful mosaic of riotous colours and is alone sufficient justification for a visit.
Mayakovsky Drama Theatre (76 Rudaki; 13 132) The Lahuti's sister theatre is situated further along the same street. Founded by Tajik artists and Moscow theatre graduates, the company initially had no premises of its own and so C.ave performances in the officers' mess.
Spurred on by the departure of many of the company's members in the wake of independence, the Mayakovsky company has worked closely with the acting department at the Tajik State Institute of Arts to nurture new acting talent. The current repertoire, which includes almost 400 works of classical and contemporary theatre, is presented in both Tajik and Russian under the direction of Sultan Usmanov, a graduate of the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts. Tickets cost TJS10.
Tajikistan State Circus (2 N Karabaeva) Shows at Dushanbe's permanent circus building, opened in 1976, are lively affairs and particularly popular with local children due to the presence of both acrobats and animals. Although there is a resident circus troupe here (including a circus school), some of the best performances come from visiting companies from Russia and China. The demonstrations are given on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons; tickets for standard performances cost TJS10.