Anticipation and excitement had been building for me as I awaited the arrival of Cavalia. I was elated when I was asked to represent the Bay Area Equestrian Network as a reporter for the invitation-only media event held to introduce Cavalia and its cast to bay area news agencies. Along with a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle and two television network reporters (ABC & NBC), I was given the grand tour and introduced to the equine stars.
From Normand Latourelle, one of the founders of Cirque Du Soleil, Cavalia is a thrilling blend of artistry, ballet, acrobatics, theater, poetry, magic and excellent horsemanship. The tent that houses the performances is over nine stories high and looks like Denver’s Airport. With over 12 thousand square feet of canvas and over 800 tons of sand on stage, it is overwhelming. A 200-foot wide screen displays images from more than two dozen projection cameras during the show. Cavalia features twenty-one riders and acrobats from around the world performing with their partners, 33 horses representing five different breeds. This equestrian troupe consists of all stallions and geldings, with no mares. The beautiful equine stars range in age from 4 months to 17 years old.
When the trainers Frederic Barrette and Magalie Delgado (who are Co-Directors of the show) brought a few horses into a sandlot to play, I was amazed by what I saw. Having been around horses my whole life, I am not easily impressed by horse trainers. Expecting to see old-style circus trainers whipping their horses into submission or forcing them to perform tricks, I was pleasantly amazed and surprised to see the love between the riders and animals. The horses were given the opportunity to run free, after being transported by air from Canada to Los Angeles and then trucked to San Francisco. I expected the horses to run as far from the trainers as they could gallop, enjoying their newfound freedom. Instead, the horses immediately ran to their trainers, awaiting the attention and love which they quickly received.
Yes, they performed tricks for me, but it was obvious these horses and riders were having fun. They were not as much performing as they were playing together. My excitement continued to build. Frederic prefers to play and treats the horses with respect and tenderness, speaking to them through imperceptible body gestures, and getting them to perform by simple clucking sounds.
I knew immediately that this was not going to be a circus act with horses, but an emotional event with a story. Eager to please their trainers (with no reward other than love and affection), the horses put on a show for me in a parking lot full of sand and base rock. I was thrilled with this performance, witnessing a remarkable bond between horses and humans. Dressed in jeans and plain clothes, the horses’ manes still braided for travel, I got to see the interactions of humans and powerful beasts enjoying each others’ presence. Without the aid of bridles or bits, they danced, ran and played, as did my imagination of what the coming show was going to be. This was without the lights, the live music, and the choreography, and this was amazing.
I asked Magalie (who is married to Frederic) what would I see at the show, and she replied, A secret. But I knew from her smile that this was not a carnival sideshow line to trick me out of a few dollars. This was going to be an event filled with emotions and mystique. I was given a press release and video clip of the show from Canada, where over 110,000 tickets were sold in Toronto and Montreal. The video made it obvious to me that the real stars are the horses, in a setting filled with awe-inspiring feats and spectacles of art and agility.
Magalie and Frederic have worked together for over 14 years, but married just last year. She told me with her French accent, “We have to be married. We spend every minute together and horses is all we talk of.” When asked, “Which is easier to train, horses or your husband?” she smiled and laughingly said, “My husband is hard to train, but horses are easy.” With this being the first show in the U.S., I asked Magalie if she was excited to be here? She replied, Oh, yes, even the horses are glad to be here. The warm weather and beautiful blue skies are incredible. The temperature in Montreal was eighteen degrees when they left. But I knew there was true excitement to be performing for a U.S. audience. Magalie said her first time on a horse was at age three and she has been riding ever since. Most of the horses in the show are from her family’s horse breeding farm in France. She said her first show was at age 8, when she performed tricks she had taught her horse for her own family.
Walking in the stables, feeling the electricity and buzz of the workers, was clearly raising my anticipation and desire to see the show. Beautiful horses being pampered, groomed, and loved was the agenda as people were scurrying to feed, muck stalls, and turning horses out to play. Each horse has approximately two hours of playtime a day and an average of only one hour of practice each day. Where do I sign up? I was in awe of these handsome stallions, especially Templado, who is clearly the alpha. Templado is a household name in France, where he has performed for hundreds of thousands of fans and has had books written about him. To braid Templado’s mane takes 90 minutes. This is the kind of celebrity that gets my attention. As he contentedly munched on his meal, Templado did raise his head to acknowledge my presence, unlike most Hollywood stars.
I was glad to see the stage is built so close to the seats, for close-up views for everyone. This will be a spectacular event of choreographed precision, designed to flood all your senses with jaw-dropping awe. If you enjoyed Cirque Du Soleil and you love horses, this is the event to see. If you haven’t seen Cirque Du Soleil and love horses, you’re in luck. This will amaze you even more.