“IDEAS” PERSON: “Cirque du Soleil”, with horses.
FRANCHISE ADMINISTRATOR: “Sold!”
“Wait. French-Canadian horses?”
“Do they have those?”
“Mais, Whoa! Never mind. We’ll teach them the dismissive attitude. ‘Sold’, anyway.”
Cirque du Soleil, with horses is the premising concept of Cavalia, a performance of which we recently attended with our grandchildren and their parents. A more precise description would be Cirque du Soleil with horses, interspersed with human acrobats because there is only so much you can do with horses.
I am not certain this hybrid confection assuaged either of its participants.
CAVALIA HORSE: “Why do we need acrobats? Aren’t ‘synchronized horses’ enough?”
HUMAN ACROBAT: “We auditioned for the main company. They said, ‘We have good news and bad news. The good news is: Welcome to Cirque du Soleil. The bad news: You’re in the show the show with the horses.”
CAVALIA HORSE: “We heard that.”
HUMAN ACROBAT: “Like we care.”
Did our grandchildren enjoy it, which is the central purpose of such undertakings? Ever since Ida Bloom who was not “family” but had no children of her own and felt the compulsion to take other people’s children to the circus, I have been aware of the age-old tradition of adults taking children places, the children with no expressed enthusiasm for what those thoughtful adults are transporting them to see.
“It’s an excavation site. They’ll love it.”
“A public hanging. You have to introduce kids to novel experiences.”
Five year-old Milo was into the show at an age-appropriate level of involvement, though his attention rose nowhere close to his Star Wars-and-its-endless-prequels- and-sequels concentration. Two-and-a-half year-old Jack, whom I occasionally calls “Bob” just to mess with his mind and he shows no interest whatsoever in playing along, spent the two-hour duration of the performance raising and lowering his seat.
Up-Down. Up-Down. Up-Down. Up-Down. Up-Down.
This leaves the adults, who are on hand primarily because the children can’t drive, evaluating the presentation from their personal perspectives, a limited one for me since, having missed the RCMP’s celebrated “Musical Ride”, this was my first production involving synchronized stallions. (Which, we were informed earlier, most of the equine participants we were witnessing were. Stallions, we were additionally informed, are harder to train because, unlike geldings, they are still thinking about mares.)
I have to tell you, for a least half of Cavalia and possibly longer, I was thoroughly enchanted. (I only wish those horses could know that from this attendee’s standpoint, the acrobats, although skillful, were indisputably in “Second Position.” I hope they sensed that when I clapped harder for them.)
The imaginative set design morphs ingeniously through various “tableaus” (actually, “tableaux”)– Arabian desert, Monument Valley, African wastelands, one sequence included a rippling pool of water water which, I was, like, “Where did that rippling pool of water come from?”
The stage begins empty. Suddenly, a string of the perfectly-groomed horses drift hypnotically into view, simulating an ethereal “horse mirage” – without trainers – it’s like these horses just show up and go spontaneously through their paces. They hit their “marks”, they move in perfectly ordered formations – nobody’s dawdling, nobody’s forging ahead. It’s like “wind-up” horses, but with no key.
It’s amazing to see horse do that. The horses I’m familiar with eat hay at a trough and shoo away insects with their tails. One of them bit me.
These horses weren’t like that. They were impeccably trained, executing maneuvers that – again, we were informed earlier in an ersatz “Quiz” – took them two to six years to perfect. Depending on the maneuver, not the intelligence of the individual horse. I just wanted to clarify that; show horses are notoriously sensitive.
Their consummate artistry went way past Gene Autry’s “Champion” counting with his foot. If that was “Addition”, Cavalia’s feats of wonder were “Advanced Trigonometry.” It was definitely the “high rent” district of “horse sense.”
But there was a weird contradiction, it seemed to me – years of practice, making masterfully trained horses look “free.”
CAVALIA HORSE: “We used to do that before.”
ANOTHER CAVALIA HORSE: “Yeah, but we probably wouldn’t have shown up for work.”
Though there were slow parts, at its best, Cavalia’s effect was hallucinogenically dreamlike.
On top of which, and maybe most surprisingly…
How do they ensure that? Kaopectate? A giant “stopper”? A programmed signal for “holding it in”? I’m not saying that was the most amazing trick they pulled off, but I’ve been around horses. They “let go” all the time!
CAVALIA HORSE: “What! We ‘went’ before the show. And by the way, do you ever say that about actors? ‘Virtuoso performance. And she held it in’.”
CAVALIA HORSE: “That’s ‘Horseism!’”
Lemme wrap this up.
CAVALIA HORSE: “Fine. But watch your step.”
I always do around horses – just messin’ with ya. Anyway, as you would expect for Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia displayed startling flashes of imaginative brilliance. For me, at least, there were not quite enough of them.
CAVALIA HORSE: “Don’t say, ‘Because of the limitations of the animals.’ We’re horses. You should be surprised we do anything!”
You guys were sensational. The movements and “visuals” are embedded forever in my consciousness. There was a tumbler who did about twenty back flips in a row…
CAVALIA HORSE: “I warned you, don’t go there.”
That was nothing compared to that incomparable company of horses.
CAVALIA HORSE: “Sorry. I did not see where that was going.”
No problem. And great show, by the way.
CAVALIA HORSE: “Did you notice my mane?”
We were talking about how long and beautiful it was on the way home.
CAVALIA HORSE: “Really?”