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Cavalia takes a talented team to merge human and horse

Post by Craig Sailor / The News Tribune on Jan. 17, 2012 at 6:14 pm with No Comments »
January 24, 2012 10:51 am

CAVALIA UPDATE (Jan. 24): Cavalia announced today: “Due to the strong demand for tickets to ‘Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse,’ the organizers today announced an additional week of performances. Cavalia will now extend its run to February 19.”

Aerialists perform on bungees above two riders in "Cavalia."
NOTE: Read my review of Cavalia here. Below is a feature on the show’s creator, choreographer and a performer.

It’s been hard to miss the advertising for “Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse.” The traveling show has snapped up many of the high-profile billboards in the South Sound. The signs feature a horse with a human-like mane and a rave from Larry King.

“War Horse” this is not.

The production opens tonight in its big-top tent at Redmond’s Marymoor Park. The show combines ground-based equines and their riders with aerialist performers in a Cirque du Soleil-like extravaganza.

Cavalia uses 38 riders, aerialists, acrobats, dancers, and musicians and features 46 horses representing 11 breeds. Video projections on a 210-foot-wide screen and other visual effects mix with the performers in the 26,000-square-foot, 110-foot-high big top.

A 160-foot-wide stage allows the horses to gallop at full speed, at times with riders and at other times free.

There’s a reason the Montreal-based show seems like Cirque on horseback. Cavalia is the creation of Cirque co-founder Normand Latourelle.

The creator

When Latourelle was looking for a new direction for his career, he attended a show that included a horse as a performer. For him, it was a revelation. “Every time it came on stage, the horse was stealing the focus from the performers,” he said.

Latourelle knew little about horses, but he appreciated their majestic form. “My God,” he recalls thinking, “this is such a beautiful animal.”

Latourelle also realized that the horse — which humans have used for millenia in war, transportation and agriculture — is inextricably interwoven with culture. “Looking at the history of the horse was looking at the history of civilization,” he said.

He knew he had a theme for a new show. Cavalia was born.

Though this is the show’s second visit to Puget Sound (the first was in 2004), Latourelle said it has evolved and expanded in the ensuing eight years. New music, visuals and a tighter rhythm have changed its look, he said. Performers and horses are new and there are more of them.

This is not a horse show, Latourelle said. “It’s a show about horses. Here you see artists on two legs and four legs.”

The Performer
“My trick horse loves to run. He goes two speeds: fast and faster,” said rider Fairland Ferguson.

The South Carolina-based performer has been with Cavalia for three years. She grew up riding horses in Virginia and worked her way through college as a rider with a country-western horse show. There, she learned the skills that she now uses in Cavalia.

The atmosphere at Cavalia is very different from her college days, she said. “I was the oddball out (in college). I was the crazy one, infatuated with my horses. When I came to Cavalia, everyone was like that.”

In Cavalia, Ferguson rides a trick horse (she does most of the tricks) and is a Roman rider, a style where she stands atop two horses in a six-horse team.

Ferguson won’t say which is more difficult or higher on the performance pecking order, trick or Roman riding. But she said there are differences.

Trick riding requires a quick bursts of acrobatics. “You’re just worried about yourself,” she said. In Roman riding, “You’re worried about yourself and you’re controlling two horses.”

She is proud of the fact she’s the show’s only female Roman rider, calling it “the woman’s chance to really shine in the show.”

The work is precise and potentially dangerous – even the most well-trained horses can have mishaps that might not end well for a puny human rider. But Ferguson said she’s never fallen in a show. Practices are another story. She’s learned how to fall safely.

“Instead of trying to save it, I just let go and hit the ground.” She’s never been injured.

Key to working with thousand-pound equines is sticking with the same horse, Ferguson said. “That communication and understanding is really important.”

Dangers aside, Ferguson is forthcoming about her motivation for working in Cavalia.

“I’m a big old ham for performing. You can’t ask for a better job.”

And while she can’t be sure what the horses think about being performers, Ferguson said, “I feel like they want to have a purpose. We work with our horses and we know how they feel.”

The choreographer
Alain Gauthier, Cavalia’s choreographer and on-tour artistic director, has been with the show since its inception in 2003. Prior to that, he wracked up 2,000 performances with Cirque du Soleil as an aerial acrobat.

Gauthier choreographed Cavalia’s fusion of acrobats and horses. His goal: to create a unique experience in performance arts.

“The whole show is a blend,” he said. “We do it for (the horses). It’s the love of those horses that has got us together to create this new genre of entertainment.”

Trust is the word Gauthier uses repeatedly to describe the working relationship between the humans and horses. He recalls the first day he brought a horse and an aerialist together. “The riders rode in. The horses had never seen a human being hanging in the air upside down, and (they) backed away. But gradually they got used to it.”

Like Ferguson, Gauthier is sensitive to the horses’ moods. When they sour, it’s usually because of the human performers. “Humans have bad days and horses will react to that.” And sometimes horses will react to an unfamiliar sight or noise. “Someone working backstage that we can’t see but the horse can hear. We usually find the cause.”

The choreography of the show is intended to portray the relationship between humans and horses, Gauthier said. “It’s supposed to be as beautiful as the horse – which is pretty much impossible. We tried to find ways to move around the horse that complements it.”

Both Ferguson and Gauthier said Cavalia is not just a show for horse lovers. Gauthier said they aren’t even the majority of the audience. “It really caters to a wide range of audiences. Everybody gets something out of it.”

When: Matinees and evening performances Wednesday through Feb. 12
Where: Marymoor Park, 6046 W. Lake Sammamish Parkway N.E., Redmond
Tickets: $54.50-$99.50 plus per-ticket service charge of $11.50 for telephone or web orders or $4.50 for box office purchases. Shipping fee is $7 per transaction.
Information: 866-999-8111,

WEATHER NOTE: Wednesday’s night opening performance of “Cavalia” may be postponed due to weather, Normand Latourelle, the show’s creator and artistic director, said today.

A final decision will be made by 4 p.m. Wednesday. If postponed, the show will be moved back one day to Thursday, a previously scheduled day off for the production. Wednesday’s tickets will be honored at that show, Latourelle said.

Announcements will be posted on the show’s website:

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