It’s a little bit Camelot and a little bit Arabian Nights, with a dash of “My Little Pony” thrown in. I’m talking, of course, about the lavish much-hyped Cavalia, a touring equestrian “spectacular” which has arrived in Australia after being seen by 3.5 million people across North America and Europe.
American talk show host Larry King declared it “The greatest show I’ve ever seen!”, and after strolling the red carpet at the Australian premiere in Brisbane last week, entertainment reporter Richard Wilkins echoed with: “One of the most incredible live shows I’ve ever seen!”
Although I’m not a horse-woman, I do love horses. I think they are beautiful, intelligent animals. So when I was offered the chance to review Cavalia, I fairly galloped off to see it.
I’ve been on horseback quite often in my travels, but I’m not a rider. Anything past a gentle trot and I’m clinging for dear life and well and truly outside my comfort zone. One particular memory of a Man from Snowy River moment or two on a horse trek in Victoria’s high country still leaves me thanking my lucky stars I finished the day unscathed. And I will never forget being able to swim with the horse I had ridden after a tourist trail ride in Vanuatu.
In a scene of the movie Runaway Bride, Julia Roberts gallops away from the altar on a chestnut horse, her white wedding dress billowing in the wind. When I saw that movie, many years ago, I sighed. I wished more than anything – at that moment – that I could ride a horse like that. After seeing Cavalia, I wished it all over again.
Combining equestrian skills, acrobatics, high-tech stage effects, and stirring live music, Cavalia began its life in Montreal, the brain-child of Normand Latourelle, one of the co-founders of Cirque du Soleil.
I had expected an arena like a circus ring; instead a 50-metre wide stage is in front of the 2000 seats under the stunning white Big Top (which at 35 metres or about 10 storeys high is one of the largest touring tents in the world). I wondered how – with a cast of 44 horses and 36 acrobats, aerialists, dancers, musicians and riders – they would fit in that space.
Of course, it is all expertly choreographed and the horses and human performers managed to make everything look easy. The first half of the show started off slowly, with dreamy, mystical settings and lots of swirling gowns and long hair blowing in the breeze (more medieval-style than fleeing bride) to rival the horses’ flowing manes. Even the male riders had hair to their waist, projecting a rather raffish gypsy look. But the pace picked up a bit after the interval, with some wonderful aerial stunts, and a bit of fun in a chase sequence as the horses and bareback riders galloped from stage left to right and back again, over and over, performing more daring stunts with each lap.
The description I’ve seen that best describes Cavalia is “equestrian ballet”. There’s a fairy-tale feel to some of the sequences, with changing backdrops and moods. It’s part circus, part dressage event. The horses are beautiful, and the horsemanship is impeccable.
Images in this slideshow are courtesy of Cavalia.
If you are a horse-lover – like the little girl clutching a $25 toy horse from the souvenir stall who I talked to during interval – you will not want to leave. And if you are prepared to pay extra, you can even visit the horses in their stables after the show.
Is it the greatest show I’ve ever seen? I have to confess that despite the undoubted skill displayed by the performers – both equine and human – I’d still stump up for Cirque du Soleil tickets faster than for a return visit to Cavalia.
Opening night in Brisbane marked the 2000th show for Cavalia, and to celebrate, 2000 tickets were donated nationwide to the children’s charity VARIETY, to enable families from disadvantaged backgrounds to see the production. They will absolutely love it.
The Brisbane season – extended twice due to demand – runs until April 14. Cavalia will open in Sydney on May 15, and in Melbourne on August 7.