Published on July 22nd, 2012 | by David0
Horse And Human Connect In Cavalia, Now In San Jose
You can take the horse out of the circus, but you can’t take the circus out of the horse. If you’re around San Jose between now and August 12th, there is a show you have to check out and that offers something for everyone. If you have seen a ‘Cirque du Soleil’ performance before, the structure of this show will be familiar- artistic, musical vignettes, often with death-defying acrobatics, telling a wordless story. The difference, though, is that this one is all about the horses.
Cavalia, is once again in the Bay Area, and it is a beautiful, musical sight to behold. As you might expect, equines on a screen are nothing compared to seeing them up close. Barreling down the 160-foot stage at 30 miles an hour, they are a blur of primal energy. Trotting together in perfect synchronicity, they raise questions about just how intelligent these creatures can get. The story is a rough outline of the horse/human relationship through time: their encounters in the wild, early domestication, sport and exhibition, and finally a sort of regal harmony.
The scale of the show is impressive as well. The stage is absolutely massive in every dimension- wide enough that the horses can easily get up to full speed, tall enough (10 stories) for bungies and trapeze, and with a mess of curtains, barriers, and lighting that adjusts the depth to keep the stars of a scene in focus. A live band is occasionally visible behind a gauzy backdrop, and high-resolution projectors create everything from dappled light through trees to a moonlit snowscape. Cavalia uses its powerful multimedia with care and intention, to add to the performers rather than detract from them.
I will be honest: opening night was not perfect. After a few near-falls (and one real one) during on-horse acrobatics, my girlfriend had a vice grip on my arm the rest of the show. For all the practice the acrobats put in, all the training of the horses, and all the rehearsals, the horses will always add the smallest amount of unpredictability…and when you’re doing a backflip on a galloping stallion, unpredictability can be disastrous. The performers were all stoic and resilient in these moments, but it was a reminder that this isn’t O, or Ka, and that part of celebrating the bond between human and horse is accepting the tradeoff of laser precision for wild primality.
In the second act, everything picked up. Rather than alternating between near-motionless tableaux and terrifying, frenetic on-horse acrobatics, the latter part of the show spent a good deal of time on two levels- entertaining expert riding across the tambark floor, with several aerialists on ropes, bungees, and trapeeze above. Slightly more grounded tricks, playing to the horses’ and humans’ strengths rather than trying to push the absolute limits of what is possible, made the whole show feel tighter and more effortless.
My favorite scene in Cavalia, however, had no acrobatics whatsoever. A petite, simply dressed woman led a half-dozen caramel brown horses around a ring, using only her soft voice and an outstretched hand. To turn them around, she simply planted herself right in the path of the six thousand-pound animals, flinging them around with her calm but dominant presence. I’m sure the whole sequence was rehearsed hundreds of times, but it appeared to be ultimately driven by the horses’ relationship with and trust of their leader, rather than an elaborate set of conditioned ‘tricks.’
If you go to Cavalia expecting Cirque du Soleil, you may be disappointed. However, if you take it for what it is- a joyful, poignant, majestic celebration of horses and our love for them- it is as powerful a show as anything Cirque has put out, and takes some of the best artistic ideas from that franchise in a bold new direction.