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On horseback or in the air, Cavalia delivers

Post by Craig Sailor / The News Tribune on Jan. 17, 2012 at 6:29 pm with No Comments »
January 25, 2012 4:09 pm
Fairland Ferguson performs in Cavalia.

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.”

It had to be one of the most unintentionally ironic moments in recent stage history. During a 45-minute preview of Cavalia Tuesday, it started to snow. Not just outside at Redmond’s Marymoor Park, but inside the show’s 110-foot-high big top.

This was minutes after creator Normand Latourelle announced that Wednesday night’s opening show might have to be postponed because of the snowstorm expected to wallop the region.

It wasn’t real snow – just part of the show’s special effects.

Cavalia packs lighting, music and performers – both human and equine – into their big top. The result, at least in this shortened preview of the show (the full length public show is more than two hours with intermission), was a showcase of horses and the skilled humans who train and ride them.

Oh yeah, there also are acrobats and performers on bungees. They’re impressive to be sure. But the real stars here are the horses and riders.

The show opened with an old paint horse galloping on stage, quickly followed by a man on foot. The horse is slowly tamed and the pair ride off, bareback. The story here was clear: the union of man and beast.

But before the paint and its rider galloped off, the horse put its two front hooves on the stage’s barrier and stared intently into the audience. No doubt it was trained to do that, but the interaction between the horse and the audience was intense.

From that first horse you get a sense of what Cavalia aims for: a glorification of the horse. Perfectly groomed, expertly lit and accompanied by live music, horses gallop, walk, jump and otherwise show off their physical abilities in a variety of ways that can’t be explored in the typical rodeo or dressage show.

The human performers aren’t too shabby either. The women are lithe and strong, the men look like they just stepped off a romance book cover as they command their steeds.

In an act called “The Fly,” two riders on horseback repeatedly merged and separated with two women on wires. Sometimes the aerialists would be on the horses, and other times they would be flying next to or above them. The act was the best mash-up of horses and performers in the show. In most of the other pairings, the aerialists and acrobats seemed to be performing in an entertaining but alternate show.

Although I never fully grasped the integration of those human performers and the horses, they were still a delight to watch. One aerialist on a bungee dove straight toward the front row of the audience. She stopped well clear of the audience, but made a lasting impression.

In another segment, four riders appeared against a projection of the Roman Coliseum, with each rider standing atop two horses. The Roman riders raised the show’s energy level several notches, riding at break-neck speeds around the stage. Performer Fairland Ferguson whooped and hollered at the audience. Later, commanding two teams of horses and still standing upright, she jumped all four over a bar.

In a nod to the traditional Western horse show, a team of trick riders galloped back and forth, barely hanging on to their saddles as they bounced off the stage, rode upside down and performed other tricks only advanced yoga practitioners could handle. The riders seemed a little obsessed with retrieving tossed handkerchiefs. Perhaps they need to branch out in the props department.

As energy-packed as the Roman and trick riders were, another act was much quieter, but just as startling. A liberty horse trainer commanded six horses using only voice and body movement. The introduction of this act consisted of the horses coming on stage, nipping each other, rolling on the sandy stage, fighting a little bit, and generally just being horses.

After the trainer appeared, she moved the herd in unison, changing their direction like a flock of birds.

The special effects add to, but do not overwhelm, the show. In addition to the snow, fall leaves also fell at one point in the show. But the most ethereal moment came during a projection of horses onto a scrim created by falling water.

It seemed almost magical.

When: Matinees and evening performances Wednesdy 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,

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