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Cavalia: An Equine Love Affair

SMBoule_2.jpgIntelligence and balance are the operative words for Cavalia, a choreographed horse show with nimble riders, trainers cum horse whisperers (a recent Washington Post article said the main trainer Frédéric Pignon calls himself a horse listener), acrobats, aerialists, and impressive stagecraft with high tech features. On September 23, 2009, at Pentagon City in Washington, DC, the Dresser and her honey strolled into the Cavalia big top--the largest touring tent in North America--to partake of this spectacle. SMWhite_BigTop-1.jpg


The show, developed by Normand Latourelle a former Cirque du Soleil founder, began with a quiz projected on the curtains closing off the massive staging area. How many horses are involved with this show? 64. How many are stallions? 28. How many are mares? Zero. The Dresser's honey who owned and showed horses in the 1980s, whispered to her that it would take only one mare to cause a mutiny, even some of the 36 geldings (neutered males) would remember the allure of a mare in heat. Thus the show progressed with a tight shot of equine coupling (for the inexperienced eye, the image might have seemed all design void of reality) followed by the birth of a long-legged foal and then the first live horse--barely a yearling and the youngest member of the Cavalia stable--entered the arena unbridled and alone.

SMSylvia_Grande_liberte_2.jpgSeveral quotes such as "The horse is God's gift to man," an Arabian Proverb, were projected on the backdrop curtains and little by little, the audience learned how well loved the Cavalia horses are and how much these magnificent animals, many of them with long flowing manes and tails, are willing to do for their trainers. Pignon, with his own mane of flowing hair, ran joyfully with the herd. Predominately the horse prowess involves the discipline of dressage. While the Dresser's main squeeze was worried that Cavalia might be the equivalent of River Dance, even the chorus line effect of the show segment entitled "Carrousel," where eight mounted horses side step with absolute precision or are led through their paces including the high-level move known as the flying change, did not break the poetic mood that carries through the entire show.


Threaded through the fluid paces of horses galloping, prancing, and even lying down as if they were household dogs are projected images of antiquities such as the Chinese terracotta soldiers with an accompanying terracotta horse. SMLG_Philipe.jpgYes, there are a few elements of the Wild West complete with lasso twirling and trick riding. There is also a daredevil episode of Roman riding involving four men riding four pairs of horses--each man standing with one leg on the back of one horse and the other leg on the back of the other horse.SMRoman_Riding_Ricky_2.jpg

Live musicians play an original music score by Michel Cusson, a Canadian composer known for his jazz compositions. The Dresser particularly took note and enjoyment of the music set for the cello and the bolero piece played for "Carrousel."SMCarrousel_Lynn_Glazer.jpg

smBungee_1.jpgThe Dresser's favorite scene was an aerial ballet called "La Vida" that included a white Lusitano stallion named Hades and a buckskin Lusitano stallion named Nacarado. While "La Vida" is sensual, it is not sexual. Throughout the show, the acrobats and aerialists added variety, demonstrating their impressive strength, balance, and daring, however, in the end, the humans were window dressing to the remarkable horses that give the illusion of having no bonds or boundaries. Is this show as awe-inspiring as Cirque du Soleil's "O"? No. Nonetheless, this is family entertainment of the highest order, and the Dresser recommends this as a great date night event, even if your honey is not an equestrian.

In Deborah Bogen's 12-part poem "Within the Porcelain Theater" from her award-winning book Landscape with Silos, the poet weaves together imagery in the section entitled "The Ingénue" that seems uncannily apt to those images experienced in the show Cavalia, where the horses are not broken but seem to be in harmony with the goodwill of their human caretakers.


What's your belief about the nature
of the body? She gathers her ritual objects

and tries to cultivate a reverence
for explanation. Sometimes her thoughts

are unbroken horses. She's glad
she never had to live on the streets.

Nights return her to the meadow where
they buried her complicated five-year-old self.

She loves blues and satire, a didactic
combination, but edgy, like sacrificial

wine. She believes objects receive their
beauty via gesture, via how they are held.

She believes in love hunger, the power
of black dirt and dragonflies, the children

chasing after them. Even though she
found broken teeth on the ground.

How much truth did you expect from the living?
She believes the cage is never locked.

Deborah Bogen
an excerpt from "Within the Porcelain Theater"
published in Landscape with Silos

Copyright © 2006 Deborah Bogen

Photos by Frédéric Chéhu:
Photo #1 Acrobat on ball
Photo #5 Roman Riding
Photo #7 aerialist on head of horseman

Photo by Guy Deschênes:
Photo #2 Cavalia Big Top

Photo by Cavalia staff:
Photo #3 Sylvia Zerbini with horses

Photos by Lynne Glazer:
Photo #4 Alex Philippe performing trick riding
Photo #6 "Carousel" chorus line


Comments (1)

Barbara Goldberg:

I really wanted to see that show. Your review is terrific!

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