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Skylar Brandt and Duncan Lyle.
Photo by Fabrizio Ferri.

Photos by Per Morten Abrahamsen, provided by Royal Danish Ballet.

© Copyright 2017
Ballet Theatre Foundation, Inc.
All rights reserved.

Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky
Inspired by Mikhail Fokine's original production
Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
arranged by Yannis Samprovalakis
Sets and Costumes by Richard Hudson

Act I - 41:00
Act II - 46:00


An Astrologer, tantalized by a vision of the fantastical Queen of Shemakhan, hatches a plan to capture her. He conjures up a magical Golden Cockerel and, with an elaborate scheme in mind, departs for the kingdom of Tsar Dodon.

Tsar Dodon and his sons, Guidon and Afron, meet with the boyars, their royal advisors, to discuss what action to take against the constant attacks from neighboring kingdoms. Prince Guidon is a fun and peace-loving sort, but Prince Afron urges the Tsar to declare war. The cowardly boyars waffle and waver, and General Polkan becomes frustrated and angered by the proceedings. In the midst of the chaos, the Astrologer appears and presents the Tsar with the Golden Cockerel, whose crow will warn the kingdom of any approaching enemy. The delighted Tsar accepts the gift and promises the Astrologer whatever he desires in return.

After a magnificent meal, the Tsar falls into a deep sleep. He is rudely awakened when the Golden Cockerel begins to crow, warning of impending danger. Concerned, the Tsar orders Afron and Guidon to lead the army into battle. The sons are sad to abandon their lovers, but Tsar Dodon orders them away. After they leave, he settles down to sleep once more, dreaming of the Queen of Shemakhan, but his visions of her are interrupted when the Cockerel begins to crow yet again. A messenger brings news that the Tsar’s army has been defeated, and he decides to follow his sons to war.

Tsar Dodon and his boyars reach the site of the battlefield. They are horrified to find that Princes Afron and Guidon have been slain, but they are quickly distracted by the appearance of the alluring Queen of Shemakhan, accompanied by her exotic entourage. The Queen’s captivating dancing makes the Tsar forget his murdered sons, and he falls madly in love with her. Before long, he offers her his scepter and crown. The Queen is triumphant as Tsar Dodon leads her back towards his kingdom.

Back at the palace, the Tsar’s subjects and loyal housekeeper, Amelpha, eagerly await the return of the Tsar and his new Queen. They arrive in a marvelous and grand procession. As it reaches its end, the Astrologer appears to collect his reward in return for the Golden Cockerel. He orders the Tsar to give him the Queen of Shemakhan. The Tsar is incensed by the outrageous demand and, in his fury, strikes and kills the Astrologer. The Queen disappears, laughing wildly, and the Golden Cockerel suddenly swoops down, pecking the Tsar to death.

The Astrologer slowly rises from the ground. He suggests that the story is a fable, and only he and the Queen are real - the others are mere illusions created to entertain. Seeing the Queen in the distance, the Astrologer takes off, continuing his perpetual quest to attain her.

Additional Background Information

The creation of The Golden Cockerel offers a fascinating odyssey, beginning with the American author Washington Irving, whose Tales of the Alhambra inspired the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin's verse, The Fairy Tale of the Little Golden Cockerel, which was, in turn, the basis for composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Le Coq d'Or. Following the opera's 1909 premiere, choreographer Michel Fokine conceived the idea of a ballet set to Rimsky-Korsakov's score for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and in 1914, Fokine's premiere of The Golden Cockerel was an unqualified triumph.

Inspired by Fokine's ballet, ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky created a new version of this magical fairy-tale ballet, which will now make its American Premiere by American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera House. Audiences may anticipate a visual spectacle for the whole family, following the humorous exploits of the doddering Tsar Dodon, the cunning Astrologer and the exotic Queen of Shemakhan. Ratmansky explains, "The ballet has a very interesting and funny storyline. There are many characters that give the ABT dancers the opportunity to show off their dancing. ABT has such great character artists, which is important for this ballet. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to stage this production with ABT in its American Premiere." The ballet is in three scenes and begins in the bright and colorful court of Tsar Dodon where the mysterious Astrologer appears with the magical Golden Cockerel. The next scene takes us into the distant kingdom of the Queen of Shemakhan, whose seductive charms inflame the desires of Tsar Dodon. The final scene brings the worlds of the Tsar and Queen together as they return to his court surrounded by a spectacular entourage including giants, dwarfs and a grinning camel!

Tony Award®- winning designer Richard Hudson (The Lion King) re-designed the costumes and sets, based on avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova's original designs for the Fokine production that perfectly encapsulated Russian folk culture. As Ratmansky states, "With this production, audiences will see a very colorful world, reflective of Russian music-theater, with extravagant designs on an enormous scale that is overwhelmingly theatrical!"