The Little Humpbacked Horse

ballet in three acts

music by Rodion Shchedrin

2 hours 10 minutes
1 act
25 min
interval 30 min
2 act
25 min
interval 20 min
3 act
30 min
for viewers over 6 years old

The Little Humpbacked Horse, Ivanushka and his envious brothers Danila and Gavrila, the Maiden Tsar, and the other characters have all been transferred from the pages of the wondrous fairy tale by Pyotr Ershov to the ballet stage. A peasant son, Ivanushka, with the help of a plain-looking horse who becomes his loyal friend, overcomes all his trials, puts the stupid Tsar to shame, takes his place, and marries the Tsar Maiden. The tale, familiar from childhood, is told with mischief and slyness. The music is by eminent composer Rodion Shchedrin, who wrote it as a young man while studying at the Conservatory. It sparkles with fun and creates freedom for choreographic solutions. Mikhail Messerer's production is based on the choreography of Alexander Radunsky, who was the first to use this score and created a ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1960. The full-length three-act production is a delight for children and adults alike, sure to be enjoyed by everyone who appreciates ballet performed in the classical tradition. The stage design uses motifs from Palekh miniatures, offering a very special take on fairy tales and folklore.

Act I

A farmhouse on the edge of a field. Sunday. Three brothers  Gavrila, Danila, and young Ivan are at home. The elder brothers are getting ready to go out and make merry. Ivan would love to join them, but he is too young, and must stay at home. Bored, he starts playing the reedpipe which attracts peasant youths. Ivan invites them to the house, plays with them and teaches them to dance. The elder brothers return, scorn Ivan and shoo out his friends.
Their father returns from the field and tells his sons of a villain who has been coming at night to trample their wheat. He sends his older sons out to guard the field, as Ivan is considered too young and doltish to help. Afraid of nothing, Ivan secretly sets out by himself to catch the villain.
The field. The brothers have a drink for courage and fall asleep. Ivan appears from behind the bush. Standing guard at night, Ivan encounters a wild, beautiful young mare trampling and ruining their wheat. He throws a noose around the mares neck. Frustrated that she cannot buck Ivan off, the mare offers him a gift of three horses in exchange for her freedom. Ivan accepts the trade and receives two fine stallions and a Little Humpbacked Horse.
Suddenly, firebirds fly across the sky and one of them drops a feather. As Ivan runs after it, his brothers take the two stallions, and spirit them away. Ivan returns with the glistening feather and, to his dismay, finds only the Little Humpbacked Horse, who promises to help him retrieve the stolen stallions. The little horse tells Ivan the feather could bring him bad luck, and asks him to leave it, but Ivan will not listen. They set off after the thieves.
A market square in the capital city. People trade, make merry and dance. Gavrila and Danila arrive with the stallions, planning to sell them for a lot of money. The Tsar enters the square and shows interest in buying the horses. Ivan and the Little Humpbacked Horse rush in just in time to rebuke the brothers and lay claim to the stallions. The Tsar makes a bargain with Ivan. However, as the stallions do not submit to anyone but Ivan, the Tsar then offers him the position of his Royal Equerry. Ivan is delighted with the deal, but the Tsars current Equerry is furious about it. He swears to take his revenge on Ivan.

Act II

A hot summer day. Boyars are feeding the Tsar, who then falls asleep. The resentful ex-Royal Equerry spies on Ivan and notices the firebirds feather. Ivan dozes off. The ex-Equerry steals the feather, wakes the Tsar and shows it to him. As the Tsar puzzles over how Ivan has come to possess such a rich prize, the feather conjures a vision of a beautiful Tsar Maiden. The Tsar falls instantly in love with the Maiden and orders Ivan to bring her to him. Ivan is baffled. How will he find her? The Little Humpbacked Horse tells Ivan not to worry and they set out to find the Tsar Maiden.
Ivan and his little horse arrive at the edge of the world. Every night the beautiful Maiden arrives at the silver mountain on the seashore. Ivan sees her dancing with the firebirds and is entranced by her. She also finds Ivan attractive. The Little Humpbacked Horse makes the Tsar Maiden fall asleep and they take her to the Tsars palace.


The Tsar is anxiously waiting for Ivan to return with the Tsar Maiden. When Ivan and the Little Humpbacked Horse arrive with her, the Tsar smartens up. He tells the Maiden he plans to marry her and shows her the engagement ring. The Maiden tells him she cannot marry him unless he gives her a proper ring  with a special stone that lies at the bottom of the sea. Ivan is given the task of finding the stone. He sets out again with his magical horse.
Ivan and the Little Humpbacked Horse arrive at the bottom of the sea where they find the graceful Sea Princess. She shows them the wonders of the sea kingdom, and the many sea creatures going about their aqueous lives. Ivan asks the Sea Princess to help him find the special ring for the Tsar Maidens wedding. The Sea Princess knows nothing about the location of the ring but promises that the sea people will find the ring for Ivan. She summons the all-knowing Ruffe, who brings a precious box with the stone ring. Having thanked the Sea Princess, Ivan and his little horse return to the shore.
The Tsar is getting ready for the wedding, only the Tsar Maiden is not happy about it. Ivan and the Little Humpbacked Horse appear with the stone ring. The Tsar Maiden does not fancy a wrinkled old man for a husband and tells the Tsar that to become young and handsome he must jump into a cauldron of boiling milk. The Tsar is terrified by the idea. The ex-Equerry slyly suggests he let Ivan try it first.
When Ivan throws himself into the boiling cauldron, the Little Humpbacked Horse works a magic spell and Ivan is transformed into a handsome young Tsarevich. Now it is the Tsars turn. He jumps in and disappears.
The people greet the beautiful Tsar Maiden and the handsome young Tsarevich Ivan, and prepare for the couples wedding.

Premiere of the production: 2 September 2021

Libretto by Vasily Vaynonen and Pavel Malyarevsky
Choreography by Alexander Radunsky
Staging by Mikhail Messerer

  • Stage and Costume DesignerVyacheslav Okunev
  • Multimedia Director, Lighting DesignerGleb Filshtinsky
  • Multimedia ProductionSergey Nikolaev
  • Musical Director of the productionPavel Sorokin
  • Ballet Masters AssistantsEvgeny Popov, Anna Razenko
  • Lighting and Multimedia AssistantAlexey Poluboyarinov

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