Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse



Normand Latourelle

Under the White Big Top

6th March – 31st March 2013


Reviewed by Xanthe Coward


If you love Cirque du Soleil, and you love horses, you can’t miss Cavalia.

CAVALIA  spectacle générale 2


Cavalia is a fabricated word, inspired by the Spanish and French words for horse (caballo and cheval) and the English word cavalry. The tone of the show comes from the philosophy adopted by the company, which is one of mutual respect, kindness, patience and trust, but at times this is close to being lost, as we are caught up in the excitement of daring feats performed by acrobats and aerialists whose tricks depend upon the horses running in continuous circles. Despite its claims, Cavalia is human-centric. Nevertheless…


A horse wanders into the space, curious, exploring, and enjoying its freedom from saddle, bridle and halter. Its eyes are dark and shy and glistening knowingly in the light. It takes in a human figure in the same moment we do; she gradually makes her way out from behind an abstract wall of golden diamonds, hanging like a seventies interior decorator’s dream, a mid-curtain of forest leaves. She darts out and across to a pond in the middle of the sand stage and steps into it, across it, reaching out. The horse is tentative and approaches slowly, turning away and back again, as a child would. They each take a drink and form an undeniable bond, which warms our hearts and quietens our minds, despite the wet weather, the stressful day, the heavy traffic, the cold, hard discomfort of the White Big Top’s seats, the oddity of the show’s trivia-night-style-start, whatever… This is going to be a different show. We can tell. Or can we?



Cavalia is a celebration of the unique bond humans and horses have developed over five thousand years of working and playing together. With the emphasis on play, Artistic Director Normand Latourelle, explained to me that the idea is for the horses to be able to enter a playground, not a workspace. We clearly see that this is the intent, but I’d love to see more of this, more of the play. The play is the highlight. Although I admire the skill and I appreciate that entire lives are dedicated to refining the art and competing in the sport, I’m not a big equestrian fan. But I will tell you this. I’m an equine fan. Before an entire side of our mountain became a suburban block called Buderim Pines, I used to ride with friends there, sometimes bareback when we could get away with it, down the hill and under the trees, over fallen branches and through the creek. It was their property, their business, and their love and care of horses that instilled in me a deep appreciation and love of the animal, if not the skill, strength and discipline to keep up with it in a more serious vein. After we were married, Sam and I rode bareback at North Shore, and at any opportunity I still love to ride in Mooloolah, at Atalanta’s place. And, let’s not forget that like most Aussies, I have a healthy regard for the race that stops the nation.



This is a show not just for horse lovers. There is enough beautiful music, exuberant dance and impressive acrobatics, including some sumptuous aerial work – some elegant flying and some slightly more aggressive free falling from swings set high in the grid – to keep the non-horse lovers happy too.  Vaguely following the relationship between horses and humans through the ages, we are immersed in magical environments – caves, forests, ice, stars, the Colosseum, the Wild West – with the aid of evocative lighting (Alain Lortie) and digital images (Erick Villeneuve) projected onto a 60-metre wide curved screen, an arc that serves as the cyclorama, extending across the stage. The space is generous enough to allow the horses to reach full gallop, often with standing riders performing impressive stunts as they race from one side of the space to the other, but at times running completely free. It’s a truly magnificent sight.

A beautiful segment in the second act, Grand Liberte again featuring horses without saddles, bridles and halters, cavorting, nuzzling and playing, made our hearts melt. (N.B. If you want to do the 30-minute interval in style and comfort, make sure you book a Rendez-vous VIP Package because there ain’t nothin’ but popcorn and ten dollar beers while you’re standing around in the holding pen that is the other tent! Oh, and you’ll have to fight the punters to get near a souvenir program in the “store” because there ain’t no ushers offering them).  A true Horse Whisperer, Thomas Aubron, communicated quietly and kindly with a group of seven or eight Arabians, encouraging them to move together, like the wild brumbies we love to pretend to hate here. It’s The Man From Snowy River meets The Horse Whisperer but sporting finer features, with longer locks and a flowing costume incorporating 25 yards of imported silk.



Manon Desmarais’s costumes are superb, lending an ethnic, and then ethereal air to proceedings. Picture, if you will, Woodford Folk Festival on New Year’s Eve (no, not in the Pineapple Lounge, but milling about in the streets!), with everybody dressed in either gallant Lord of the Rings elfin style garb, or funky tribal gear by local designers (yeah, that’s right, I’m claiming them; Byron Bay is local enough!), Etnix and Loose Lemur.



Look, some of us are not easily impressed. Some of us are lucky to see a LOT of stuff, and it’s a little disappointing when something doesn’t live up to your expectations. And this horses-and-humans stuff isn’t quite what it promises to be. Almost! But not quite. There are some slow moments, from an entertainment and engagement point of view, there are unnecessarily extended scenes, the finale is misjudged and turns out to be a bit of an anti-climax after one of the best, most exciting scenes of the show, and perhaps the philosophy of man-follows-horse has not been adhered to entirely, but look, three and a half million people all over the world, and now Brisbane’s opening night and Week 1 audiences have seen Cavalia. So you must see it for yourself!


The waterlogged Australian premiere on Wednesday night marked the company’s 2000th performance. (And it’s worth noting here that after any given performance, provided you’ve pre-booked the experience, you can meet the horses, during an exclusive behind-the-scenes Stable Tour!). I don’t think Cavalia will leave anybody really wanting…unless they’re wanting more, in which case, they’ll have to save up and see it a second time, or wait for Latourelle’s newest show, Odysseo, to reach our shores.





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