The Little Humpbacked Horse

I love this story because it's not very well known and it's interesting and unique. The Little Humpbacked Horse is an old Russian folk tale and the ballet is based off a poem. This version was re-written by Haley Mathiot, based off the version in Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets. Click Here to read the original version of the poem.

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Music by Cesare Pugni
 

Act 1, Scene 1- a hut

Once upon a time, there was a peasant who had three sons: Danila, a clever lad, Gravrila, not so bright, and Ivan, a fool. Ivan is lonely, as his brothers play with friends. Alone, he plays on his pipe. His brothers ridicule him. The father tells the older boys to keep watch for the thief who is stealing their corn.

Act 1, Scene.2- a field at night.

Watching for the thief, the brothers drink and pass out. In the lovely lonely night, Ivan enters and finds his brothers. He throws away the bottle and covers them up while they sleep. Then he looks up at the stars. As the night draws on, a whirlwind is heard over the field and with it the neighing of a horse. A white horse with a red mane leaps across the sky. Ivan grabs her waving tail and leaps onto her back. She implores him to let her go free. Ivan agrees and in gratitude she gives him two gold-manned horses and a little one, barely 6 inches high, with two humps on its back and ears down to the ground. She tells Ivan that he can sell the two large horses but must never part with the little humpbacked horse, who will be his friend forever. Suddenly, a firebird flies across the sky; one of them drops a feather which the little horse warns Ivan not to touch because of the trouble it will bring. But Ivan ignores the warning and chases it. The two older brothers then wake up and steel the two golden-manned horses and take them to market. Ivan returns, upset. The little humpbacked horse is sympathetic, and it gathers Ivan up and takes him off into the sky.

Act 1, Scene.3- market

Ivan’s brothers attempt to sell the horses to the Tsar, the king. But the horses only behave well when Ivan holds them. Ivan shows up and the brothers give up trying to control the horses. Ivan sells the horses to the Tsar, and the Tsar makes Ivan chief of the stables. The former chief of the stables vows to avenge himself on Ivan.
 

Act 2, Scene. 1- the Tsar’s bedchamber

The ex-chief of the stables wants to figure out why Ivan is the only one who can control the golden-manned horses. So he goes to the stables and looks through Ivan’s belongings. He finds the firebird feather, and goes to the Tsar and tells him that Ivan was hiding it from him. The Tsar takes the feather and touches a painting of sea gulls and they come alive and fly away. He then touches a painting of a beautiful maiden, and she came alive.   But only long enough for the Tsar to fall in love with her. Then she disappears. The Tsar demands that Ivan bring her back. The little humpbacked horse tells Ivan he will help him find the beautiful girl.
 

Act two, Scene two- a silver mountain by the seashore

The little humpbacked horse takes Ivan to the silver mountain where, at night the maiden appears in a silver boat. She dances a long, quiet dance. At last the little horse helps Ivan capture her in the midst of her dance. Ivan is astonished at her beauty, and he plays his pipe for the girl. But his little humpbacked horse keeps Ivan from falling in love with the girl. Ivan lulls the girl to sleep, and sets off back to the palace.
 

Act 2,Scene 3- the palace

The Tsar sits on a high throne, and Ivan and the beautiful girl arrive. The Tsar begs the girl to marry him, but she says she won’t unless Ivan finds a ring in three days that she lost in the ocean when she was born. Ivan is ordered to find it.
 

Act 3, Scene 1- the underwater kingdom

The little humpbacked horse leads Ivan to the underwater kingdom. Ivan offers a special silver shell to the empress of the water sprites. She accepts and goes to look for the seahorse that has the ring. While Ivan waits for the empress to return, the water creatures dance for him. Finally, the seahorse arrives with the ring and Ivan and The little humpbacked horse go home.
 

Act 3 Scene 2-  the proposal

the Tsar is preparing the wedding, and the maiden is anxiously waiting for Ivan and his little humpbacked horse. When they arrive, Ivan gives the ring to the girl. But then she tells the Tsar she will not marry him unless he becomes young and hansom. The Tsar is angry, and begins to threaten Ivan, but the maiden says that he can be young and hansom if he jumps in a pot of boiling milk. The Tsar demanded Ivan goes first. The little humpbacked horse tells Ivan he has nothing to fear, so Ivan jumps in. when he emerges, he is more hansom than ever. The Tsar jumps in, but does not come out. He has been boiled alive.
 

Act 3, Scene.3 – the wedding

Ivan and the beautiful maiden are wed, and the little humpbacked horse appears with flowers for the new happy couple. Ivan, the maiden, and the little humpbacked horse live happily ever after.

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