Cavalia 1 res
Photo: Frederic Chehu.


White Big Top, Moore Park, May 15

The last horse “spectacular” I witnessed was the frightful Man From Snowy River at the Entertainment Centre. Having survived that collision of horses, wagons, riders and over-amplified, vapid dialogue I swore to avoid such events like the plague. Until Cavalia galloped into town.

Sired by Cirque du Soleil co-founder Normand Latourelle, this one happily eschews any attempt at narrative, compensating us with no less than 47 beautiful horses (of 11 breeds) and 37 riders, acrobats, aerialists and musicians.

Where I’d expected the horses to star, however, they were often relegated to non-speaking roles, while humans bounced, tumbled, balanced and cavorted on, under and around them. Several riders must have had saddle sores, the poor things, as they opted to stand upon their horses.

The chief glory was a second-half segment where firstly four and then six unharnessed Andalusians performed a series of charmingly balletic manoeuvres under the horse-whispering direction of Keith Dupont.

Cavalia 3 res
Photo: Frederic Chehu.

Otherwise Alain Lortie stole the show with an exquisite lighting design that often showed off the horses with a distinctly painterly effect. His palette was vast, the 50-meter-wide stage allowing the horses to work up a gallop, while projections defined forests, castles and the like.

Alas the art of kitsch still thrives. Several sequences reminded one of those hideous galloping-on-a-beach-at-sunset pictures that once shrieked from bargain store walls – perhaps still do. This was echoed by live music so appalling that, like some of the costuming, it suggested we had stumbled into a fantasy land somewhere between Middle Ages chivalry and New Age flounce. And if you’re hoping for a Spanish Riding School standard of equestrian skill you’ll be disappointed by mediocre dressage work.

Given the welter of technical, artistic and equine resources there was surely a stronger show to be generated than this. But it will have broad appeal, especially for horse-mad children and adults who like a curious combination of sentimentality and acrobatics.

Until June 2.