Calgary Olympic Park
May 25th to June 26, 2011
Without realising it, I guess I’ve become a bit of a Cirque du Soleil connoisseur. Thinking back, I estimate I’ve seen the troupe at least 10 times in performances ranging from the big top shows in Toronto, to the aquatic production in Las Vegas and even as Peter Gabriel’s back-up dancers/performers years ago when he still had hair.
After all these shows, I have to admit that some of the sheen has worn off for me. Don’t misunderstand – the acrobats are spectacular, the choreography is perfect and the otherworldliness of the music, costumes and thematic lines are just creepy enough to hold my interest. It’s just that there is only so much “stricken with awe” I can manage for something I’ve seen many times over.
So when I was invited to today’s media preview for Cavalia, I was excited to see what surely would be a whole new twist on the Cirque repertoire. And despite being billed as “A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse” which sounds woefully cloying to me, I was curious to see how they would incorporate horses into the act and the resulting impact on the wow factor.
Now, full disclosure here, I am not a horse person. Not that I don’t like them, I do well enough. But it I don’t ride or really know anything about horses. So I was very lucky to attend the preview with a seasoned Dressage rider who could school me on the various tricks, moves and skill levels. Not to mention the amount of hard work it would take to achieve this kind of performance. I figured even if the show didn’t do it for me, at least I’d know if the horsey set would go gaga for it.
Cavalia is eight years old and is the creation of Normand Latourelle, one of the co-founders of Cirque du Soleil. While the production has toured around the world and been seen by millions of people, this is the first time it has played in Calgary. In addressing the media, Latourelle said that he is happy to come home to the “horse capital of Canada”. But after seeing the 45 highlight preview today, I’m not so sure that Calgary will be all that thrilled to see Cavalia.
Of the nine acts I saw today, only two of them really stood out, and both acts featured trick riders. The Roman Riding act, which saw riders stand astride two horses as they galloped and jumped barriers on the stage, was heart-poundingly thrilling. The horses were beautiful, the riders were athletic marvels and the pace and timing of the segment was perfect. The Trick Riding act was also entertaining with some truly fantastic feats, but suffered from being way too long and repetitive. Funny how even the most difficult acrobatic feat on a horse can become yawn-inducing after you’ve seen it (or something very close to it) over and over again.
Another act featured a mixture of typical Cirque bungee-cord aerialists and horses. When I first saw the combination on stage I thought – Fabulous! The horses are going to dance with the acrobats! But instead the horses just stood there while the acrobats bounced above them and every once in a while touched down on their backs. Frankly, the horses were utterly superfluous and the acrobatics not that interesting. The act seemed forced together and highlighted neither horse nor human well
Two sets featured horse-only performances. A Dressage-style pas de deux which even I knew was not very well executed and some odd, tedious and long performance where a woman had eight horses run around and around in somewhat of a formation until I was dizzy with boredom.
Things perked up again when the floor acrobats came out and showed that strength and balance were well within their command as was the ability to at times to seemingly defy gravity. These may have been the old-school Cirque tricks that I’m overly familiar with, but after the horse boredom, I was very happy to see them again.
My feeling at the end of the 45 minutes was one of being underwhelmed. Perhaps it was because I didn’t get to see the whole show and in fairness maybe its entirety is better than its parts. But for a preview that purported to showcase highlights, I felt let down.
The trick riding was very impressive – but this is Stampede country. You can easily see great trick riding for a lot less money and without the somewhat operatic background music and cheesy costumes. I’ve only been here one year and I’ve already seen my fill!
As for the Dressage segment, well my friend was not impressed, nor did she think the horse formation segment was anything special. There was some muttering about going up to Spruce Meadows to see how it’s done…but I tuned out. I was just too relieved that I didn’t have to shun her expertise by telling her how uninspiring I thought it was.
The pure acrobatics certainly entertained, but never really felt cohesive with the horse stuff. It was as if they had taken two separate shows and merged them together in a not entirely rewarding manner. The side of me that gets thrilled by athletic stunts was never fully satisfied and the part of me that wanted to see a great horse show was also disappointed.
As for that magical encounter that was promised between human and horse? Maybe they save it for after the lights go off.
For the guys – A couple thrills followed by lots of emotional female-horse segments with operatic music. SKIP IT
For the girls – Yes it’s cheesy and you’ve seen better riding. But the horses are beautiful and you’ll go crazy over the foals. SEE IT
For the sometimes audience – If you have never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance before this isn’t the best by far, but still worth a peak. SEE IT
For the performance junkie – You’ve seen better on every level. SKIP IT