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Published on July 22nd, 2012 | by David

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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.

Cav­alia runs in San Jose un­til Au­gust 12th, 2012. Tick­ets are $44-$140, with spe­cial ex­tend­ed ex­pe­ri­ences avail­able for $170-$240.

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About the Author

David has been writing professionally since 2008, as a translator and product editor for Japan Trend Shop. Along the way he has worked in IT for Six Apart (and its reincarnation as SAY Media), Naked Communications, and Tokyo 2.0, as well as volunteering his nerdiness for dance events and organizations such as the Fusion Exchange and the Portland Swing and Jazz Dance society. After graduating Lewis & Clark College in 2010, David entered the Teach for America program, and taught Algebra and Geometry at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco. When he's not educating young minds or buried in a computer screen, he spends his time dancing, and frequently teaches dance with fellow TrulyNet author Ruth Hoffman.



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