#Throwback Thursday: The Tsar Maiden

Today's #ThrowbackThursday is a wonderful ballet: The Tsar Maiden, also known as The Little Humpbacked Horse.

Alina Somova as the Tsar Maiden (Ratmansky)

As with many of the lesser known 19th century ballets, this work has only survived by being reincarnated several times. Unfortunately, this means that little of the original ballet now survives, though Alexei Ratmansky choreographed a new version in 2009, now performed by the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi Theatres.

Vladimir Shklyarov as Ivan (Ratmansky)

The original ballet was choreographed by Arthur Saint-Leon to music by Cesare Pugni. Saint-Leon also wrote the libretto, taking his story from the Russian fairytale The Little Humpbacked Horse by Pyotr Yershov. The ballet tells the story of a simple boy named Ivan, and his friend the Humpbacked Horse. When Ivan's two stallions are stolen, he is led into the service of the Tsar by the Humpbacked Horse, helped by a firebird's feather. The Tsar sends Ivan on a series of fantastical missions: to climb to the top of a mountain to find the Tsar Maiden, to retrieve an engagement ring from the bottom of the sea, and to take a bath in boiling water. Ivan successfully navigates these tasks with help from the magical Humpbacked Horse, emerging a hero who wins the hand of the Tsar Maiden and takes over the throne from the incompetent Tsar.

The Firebirds (Ratmansky)

Saint-Leon's ballet premiered at the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg on 15 December 1864. Marfa Muravyova starred as the Tsar Maiden, and Nilolay Troitsky played Ivan as the replacement of Timofey Stukolkin (he had been intended for the role but was forced to pull out due to a broken leg). This was the first ballet based entirely on a Russian story. The ballet was a great success, because of Pugni's score (he included Russian folk songs), and because of the splendour of the settings, especially the underwater scene. The ballet ended with a divertissement of specially created Russian folk dances. This led some critics to condemn Saint-Leon, since the French choreographer knew little about traditional Russian dances and had in fact invented many of them himself.

Ninella Kurgapkina as the Tsar Maiden, 1964 (likely Radunsky)

Nevertheless, the ballet was extremely popular with the audience, and led to the creation of a number of other Russian-style ballets. Saint-Leon restaged his ballet for the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1866; this production premiered on 26 November with Marfa Muravyova reprising her role as the Tsar Maiden alongside Timofey Stukolkin (recovered from his broken leg) as Ivan. In 1876, Sokolov in turn restaged the ballet, using Saint-Leon's choreography but inserting authentic Russian dances. This influenced the different ways ballet was performed in Moscow and St. Petersburg - the former mixing the European classical style with authentic folk dances, the latter strictly classical.

Anna Tikhomirova as the Tsar Maiden (Ratmansky)

The most important revival was that of Marius Petipa in 1895 for the Imperial Ballet, under the name The Tsar Maiden. Additions were made to the score by Riccardo Drigo, and various new scenes were added, including a prologue and several variations for Pierina Legnani. The ballet premiered at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on 26 December 1895, with Pierina Legnani as the Tsar Maiden, Alexander Shirayev as Ivan, and Felix Kschessinsky as the Tsar. Alexander Gorsky later revived this production for the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre on 25 November 1901, with Lyubov Roslavleva as the Tsar Maiden and Gorsky himself as Ivan. This work too was revived several times, once by Gorsky himself in 1912 for Tamara Karsavina and Nikolai Legat, and was the first ballet to be performed by the Ballets Russes. But gradually, the ballet became considered 'outmoded'. Much of the choreography was lost, and only the most celebrated passages continued to be performed at galas (the fate of many other ballets by Petipa and others during the 20th century).

Ballerinas from the 'Underwater' scene, 1895 (Petipa)

In 1960, Aleksandr Radunsky re-choreographed the ballet to music by Rodion Shchedrin. This work, in which Maya Plisetskaya portrayed the Tsar Maiden, was much on the same line as Prokofiev's Cinderella. In 2009, Alexei Ratmansky again re-choreographed the ballet, again to Shchedrin's score. It was reasonably well received, and was more minimalist and modern than its predecessors. It would be fair to say that Ratmansky's production is an entirely different ballet to the original Saint-Leon or Petipa production.

Maya Plisetskaya as the Tsar Maiden, c. 1961 (Radunsky)

Unfortunately, though I have footage of the 'original' ballet performed at a ballet gala in St. Petersburg (including the celebrated Underwater scene, the 'dancing frescoes', and the Enchanted Isle of the Tsar Maiden scene), these are no longer available and I cannot upload them. Instead, here's an extract from the 1963 film of Radunsky's production with Maya Plisetskaya and Vladimir Vasiliev:

Victoria Tereshkina and Mikhail Lobukhin in the 'Wedding Pas de Deux' from Ratmansky's production:

And Evgenia Obraztsova (in her debut!) as the Tsar Maiden in Ratmansky's production:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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