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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Horse and Man

By Ariana Mufson
The horse is God's gift to man. --- Arabian Proverb
When Cavalia begins, a gasp of pleasure emerges from the audience. Two exquisite young horses, palomino and bay, prance onto the stage unfettered by saddles, bridles, or halters. They canter, frolicking with one another, investigating the various horse related items scattered about-a stuffed animal pony, a rocking horse. They pick them up with their teeth and toss them playfully, delighting the audience with their antics. This is the essence of Cavalia: joy at watching the "magic" of the horse.

Of course, these horses have been impeccably trained by co-directors Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado, "horse whisperers" who prefer a relationship of trust over one of dominance and force. This became evident at the end of the show when Pignon tried to persuade three Lusitano stallions to lie down--a trick much harder than it seems, considering the innate competitive and aggressive nature of stallions. One refused. Another lay down but then started to get up. Pignon, with infinite patience, murmured and coaxed, smiling all the while. Finally, all three listened, and the audience burst into applause. These unscripted moments are what make the show even more of a success. We feel privy to a secret meeting between horse and human. Horse enthusiasts and non-equestrians alike will be captivated by the show's demonstration of skill and grace.

Cavalia traces the evolution of the horse and human "relationship." Fortunately, it excludes the brutality with which most humans treat horses. Though Cavalia does its part in inspiring awe of and greater respect for the horse, it makes one wish there were a donation box or an announcement urging the support for the horse foundations that are necessary to protect these magnificent animals.

The first act begins with projections of horse related quotes glorifying the horse, ranging from Arabian proverbs to Shakespeare. Other projections depict the horse in ancient art, a forest and the Roman coliseum. Costumes and scenery evoke ancient Greece, Rome, and Arthurian legend. In the second act, we're on the western frontier with cowboys and Indian trick riders gallopimg across the stage performing acrobatics that make the audience gasp and applaud. At one point, aerialists dangle from the ceiling, twirling and twisting as horses jump poles down below. The effect is so dizzying and exhilarating that we want to leap up onto the horses ourselves to experience the feeling of flight.

There are also more subtle moments. Dressage, when the horse carries out precise controlled movements in response to minimal signals from its rider, is a prominent feature of the show. For those not familiar with the equestrian technique, the horses look as if they are dancing-- sometimes in beat to the music, other times with each other and their riders. Cavalia is not just about the spectacle and excitement but leaves us feeling that we have witnessed an entirely balanced show, one where the horses not only perform and play, but dance.

When the performers take their final bows, a sigh of disappointment echoes throughout the white top-just before every audience member jumps up to give a standing ovation. Even though mostly human actors are on stage at the end, the applause is really for the horses. Luckily, a few remain upstage for us to watch, as they roll and mill about-- wonderfully oblivious to the fact that they are so captivating.

To watch the horse in such an atmosphere is magic. Lucky for us, Cavalia is magic as well.

Creator and Artistic Director: Normand Latourelle
Director and Visual Designer: Erick Villeneuve
Equestrian Co-Directors: Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado
Cast: Frederic Barrette, Dosbergen Bektursunovich, Renaud Blais, Olivier Bousseau, Kansas Carradine, Estelle Delgado, Magali Delgado, Anne Gendreau, Erik Martonovich, Faissal Moulid, Mustapha Moulid, Damian Pichardo, Frederic Pignon, Elhassan Rais, Nadia Richer, Alethea Shelton, Enrique Suarez, Pierre-Luc Sylvain, Cedric Texier, Philippe Tezenas, Karen Turvey (Plus thirty-seven horses.)
Musicians: Eric Boudreault, Jean-Francois Dery, Marie-Soleil Dion (vocals), Sylvain Gagnon, Jen-Francois Goyette, Caroline Lemay, Catherine LeSaulnier
Choreography: Alain Gauthier and Brad Denys
Set Design: Marc Labelle
Lighting Design: Alain Lortie
Costume Design: Mireille Vachon
Sound Design: Jerome Boisvert
Score: Michael Cusson
Trainer: Andre St-Jean
Running Time: 2 hours with a 20 minute intermission
Running Dates: 11/10/04 to 1/02/05
Santa Monica Pier, under the Big White Top
Price: $62-$92 (Student and senior discounts offered Mon.-Thurs.)
For information and reservations: 866-999-8111 or
Reviewed by Ariana Mufson on December 2, 2004.
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