Internationally acclaimed circus-style show Cavalia by Normand Latourelle, one of the creators of Cirque de Soleil, arrived in San Jose, California last week amid a flurry of manes and tails and hooves, and local press. Cavalia combines beautiful trained horses, daring feats of riding and acrobatics, lights and music for a spectacular entertainment. It's a mash-up of horse show and circus, a "Horse de Soleil," if you will. I was there on their arrival with a number of bloggers, newspapers, and TV stations to cover the event. It's not every day a world-renowned show like this comes to town.
I was driving on Highway 101 near the airport week before last when I noticed a huge white castle-like structure on the side of the highway, normally reserved for empty lots and office parks. I don't go that way often, but I knew it didn't belong there. I wondered what it was and saw the sign that said "Cavalia" with a picture of a horse. I thought maybe San Jose was opening up some new Renaissance dinner theatre or hosting some kind of show pony competition. I looked it up and found out that it was something much more. When I received an invitation to attend the press preview, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to see it for myself.
The horses arrived on Friday, much to the delight of the trainers/performers who ride and care for the horses while they travel. The horses were back from two weeks of R&R at a large horse farm, a kind of horse spa, where I'm sure they enjoyed idyllic frolics through verdant pastures, pedicures, and plenty of fresh air. The performers also had time off, and were lined up outside the stable to greet their horses when they arrived by truck. The company had finished a successful run in Mexico City a few weeks prior, and were ready for prime time in San Jose.
Performer Fairland Ferguson came out to greet the members of the press on hand and answer questions about the show, the horses, and the performers. There were several young girls along with their moms in attendance, who all wanted to know how one trains to become a performer in Cavalia. Fairland noted that she had grown up around horses and after finishing college had learned trick riding in a dinner-theatre show in her home state of South Carolina. The performers hail from around the world, and we cold hear them speaking French, Spanish, and English as they milled around waiting for the horses to arrive.
The horses finally pulled up and the excitement was palpable. It was clear that the performers and the horses share a special bond. We were then treated to a tour of the stables and a short demonstration in the practice tent of various riding techniques used in the show.
On Tuesday, we were invited back to see a sneak peak of the show, with full costumes, music and lights.
The show is ostensibly about the evolution of the relationship between horses and people, so the opening scene is very austere: a beautiful horse running freely around the arena, and a man in simple costume giving hand an voice commands and befriending the horse. The segment ends with the man riding bareback on the horse, with no saddle, bits or bridles, just holding onto the horse's mane. It is a simple, gentle performance that was touching and beautiful.
Later, acrobats bound in from the sidelines and perform some amazing tricks, including a guy doing about 30 one-armed handsprings in a row that made me tired just watching him. A troupe of dancers whirled around while the acrobats performed gravity-defying flips and formed various human pyramids and towers.
In the following segment with a backdrop reminiscent of the Coliseum, Roman riders thundered in, circling the arena, with a rider standing atop a pair of perfectly sychronized, incredibly fast horses. How the riders kept their balance is a mystery to me, although performer Fairland Ferguson earlier told us that "you have to develop big thighs" to do this.
Probably the most enchanting portion of the show was what looked to me like a fairy tale sequence in which female aerialists, hanging by the thinnest of silver wires, dropped down to swoop above and around male riders and horses. It was a beautiful, ethereal scene, like colorful birds or angels descending into the theater to protect and guide both horse and rider. The women performed some lovely acrobatic dance moves in the air, while snow fell all around.
As the show progresses, the tricks and settings become more elaborate and fast-paced, culminating with acrobats, aerialists, and two dozen horses all performing simultaneously. It was a dizzying spectacle, and it was hard to know where to look at times with so much happening at once.
Cavalia runs in San Jose from July 18-August 12, 2012. Tickets are available through their website, and range from about $50-$250. VIP packages are available that include dinner and some special access. If you like horses, circuses, or just plain fun, go see it. You will surely be entertained and delighted.
Disclosure: I was invited as part of the media corps to cover the arrival of the horses and a complimentary short preview of the show. I did not receive any compensation for writing this review. All opinions are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cavalia.
Photos: All photos were taken by Glennia Campbell for TheSilentI.com. Sets, costumes, and scenes depicted are copyright of Cavalia and were photographed permission. All Rights Reserved.