Friday, January 27, 2006

Of Horses and Humans: Cavalia Casts a Magical Many-legged Spell.

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Frederic Pignon and Aetes
Photo by Frederic Chehu

It’s no doubt that horses are the “it” creatures of the four-legged kingdom. With their flowing manes, sleek bodies, and ability to rival the most agile of athletes, horses have captivated our collective imagination for centuries. Normand Latourelle’s unique tribute to the horse, Cavalia, capitalizes on our romantic yearnings to be in communion with these magnificent animals. But, the two-legged performers are no slouches either. In fact, the entire show is both game and contest between horse and human. Gorgeous horses run freely while aerialists spin the airspace. Cavalia poses a partnership that negotiates a fragile edge between domination and cooperation.

Latourelle, one of the founders of Cirque de Soleil, seeks to create yet another hybrid form of entertainment. Sure, there’s a strong Cirque vibe in the music, sets and premise. However, these glorious horses serve to ground Cavalia in the natural world.

The lights dim on a sand pit that is strewn with toy horses. A band of medieval gypsies slowly parade across the stage punctuating their journey with eye-popping acrobatics. Finally, the horses enter, sans humans, and run freely around a bit showing off their exquisite beauty. Their movements, unadorned by choreography, are lovely enough. How wonderful that we get to see this before all the theatrics begin.

Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado make up the equestrian brains behind the operation and perform in the show as well. Delgado’s duet with her look-a-like sister, Estelle Delgado, lends new meaning to the balletic notions of traditional Dressage. Dressed in Lord of the Rings goddess garb, the Delgado sisters command their statuesque white Lusitano stallions in the most intricate of dances, mirroring each other exactly.

Cavalia has its share of wild, off-the-cuff, riding as well. A cavalcade of daredevils charges across the stage, risking life and limb, riding sideways, backwards, and in some cases, being dragged behind. It’s a thrill-a-second experience for all. Alain Gauthier, the Artistic Co-Director and Choreographer, keeps the air candy moving with one amazing stunt after another. The aerial dancing gracefully accentuates the ground-based action. Marc Labelle’s richly textured visuals complement the human/horse duets without overwhelming.

The most moving moments were devoid of any visible heroics. Pignon simply plays with his horses and the audience gets to watch. He smiles, they seem to smile back. There’s some chasing and even a mid-show snooze. At one point Pignon appears to signal his horse to exit. Instead, the handsome white stallion decides to stay and enjoy the limelight. Although I was unable to break the code of how Pignon was signaling his cloven friends, I knew for certain that the method was based in a profound bond held together by mutual kindness and respect. A give and take quality makes me feel as if Pignon is having a conversation. Sometimes they don’t agree. It’s sweet and beautiful and provided a rare glimpse into Pignon's supremely humane way of working with animals. We witness an invisible communication between horse and human. This intimate exchange alone is worth the price of admission.

Cavalia continues until February 26 2006. Call 1-866-999-8111 or visit