Moscow's famous Bolshoi Theater
At the end of this week, Moscow's famous Bolshoi Theater will close its doors for up to three years to undergo much-needed renovations.  The 150-year-old theater in the heart of Russia's capital is intimately linked with Russia's cultural history.

Each night, Moscow's landmark Bolshoi Theater offers opera and ballet performances to packed houses inside a storied building that dates from the 1850's.

This was the place where many of the world's most-loved ballets were first played, among them Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

It still offers those timeless favorites along with opera classics and even occasional modern dance performances.

The cream-colored building has become an icon of Russia second only to St. Basil's Cathedral on nearby Red Square.

But in recent years, the Bolshoi, which means 'big' in Russian, has been showing its age. 

Cracks have appeared in its outer walls, and some of the floors in its ballet training rooms behind the stage are warped.

Perhaps most importantly, the area beneath the stage needs urgent attention, if the old theater is to continue mounting the large-scale productions for which it is famous.

Alexei Ratmansky is the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet. 

"It has an atmosphere, which we hope will stay, because it is very important to have this feeling of tradition,? he said.  ?But, technically, it is very old-fashioned."

The Russian government will pay most of the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars for the renovation, which is expected to take at least two years.

But the Bolshoi's general director, Anatoly Oksanov, says this is only an estimate.

He says that, with such an old building, there is no way to know just what is behind the inside walls, and there may be surprises as the remodeling gets under way. 

In recent years, a new theater was built next door.  But the Bolshoi New Stage is only half the size of the old, so many large-scale productions cannot be staged there, leaving a gap in the city's cultural heart.

But given the importance the landmark theater has for Russia, it is likely the authorities will make every effort to reopen the Bolshoi as soon as possible.