Cavalia: 'Circus Equestrius' and Then Some!

Cavalia - Giving New-Age meaning to the term horse show, this multimedia theater-on-the-hoof is performed in Washington, D.C., this month.
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Cavalia - Giving New-Age meaning to the term horse show, this multimedia theater-on-the-hoof is performed in Washington, D.C., this month.
Frederic Pignon with an equine co-star | Photo by Linda Macklin

Frederic Pignon with an equine co-star | Photo by Linda Macklin

Washington, D.C., Nov. 1, 2005 -- Horse lovers, circus lovers, music lovers, and just plain lovers will find something to cheer about in the dazzling Cavalia equine performance opening this week. Staged under a huge, turreted Big Top off I-395, this ensemble creation is riding a heady cloud of success after a sold-out, held-over run in Boston during September.

Cavalia won the hearts of Bostonians with its unorthodox juxtaposition of performance genres that have only one thing in common: horses. And lots of them. Dance, original music, classical dressage, acrobatics, Wild West trick riding, trapeze artistry, riders bouncing on and off horses from 50-foot-long bungee cords and New Age horse whispering may sound like chaos, but the fast pace and light touch of a unifying storyline keep audiences intrigued and primed for the next act. "How can they top THAT?" you'll ask; well, just wait a minute!

A creative brainchild of Normand Latourelle, one of the originators of the famed Cirque de Soleil, the show has roots in Montreal. Circus stars from Europe, Canada and Morocco join forces with equestrians, dancers, musicians and a charismatic horse communicator to deliver a message that the horse's mythical power and freedom are gifts to the human spirit that should be celebrated, but never fully harnessed.

Does that sound too New Age for you? When was the last time you jumped a horse...while standing on its back?

Riders, suspend your subjective evaluation of equitation during the performance. "Don't knock it until you've tried it!" is a fair warning. Lights, costumes, smoke screens and amplified surround-sound make each horse's performance laudable. The horses, mostly stallions, often perform at breakneck speed on a tiny stage; an extended trot has no room for a transition. Several horses seem to be acutely aware of the audience and seek--or in some cases, demand--a laugh or applause.

The riders are performers first and foremost, although many boast impressive backgrounds in classical riding. The heavily costumed pas de deux on matching Lusitano stallions is a surprising highlight of the show. High-energy Roman riding and vaulting on three likeable draft horses earn thunderous applause.

Too Toby Tyler for you? Media clips and TV ads focus on the "star" power of horse magician Frederic Pignon, whose invisible, effortless communication with Lusitano stallions transforms them into his graceful puppets and dance partners. He is a charismatic performer whose time in the spotlight is always shared equally with his equine co-stars.

If Cavalia is about the bond between human and horse, most EquiSearch visitors may say, "been there, done that--every day." But don't be quick to dismiss this show. Cavalia holds a magic mirror up to horsemen and horse lovers in the audience. There's a place for fantasy and fun in the horse world, and Cavalia takes us there.

Fran Jurga is editor and publisher of Hoofcare & Lameness: Journal of Equine Foot Science and www.hoofcare.com. She also writes the EquiSearch Spanish Riding School blog.