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Cavalia, an Unbridled Affair
Not To Be Missed

Story by Tina Hines with Charlene Keys, photos by Tina Hines

Dateline: 06/23/2004

A troupe of French Canadians have invaded the US West Coast with a brilliant showcase of man and equine artists in a theatrical production called Cavalia. "Cavalia is an invented word for an invented concept," explained Martin Roy, Cavalia publicist. "Of course, there's the root ‘caval', that brings ‘cheval' (horse in French), ‘cavalcade', ‘cavalry'…It's just a good-sounding word." It's a great eye-catching performance.

Cavalia is a breathtaking display of human artists playing and performing with their equine companions. Many of the 36 horses perform unbridled and unrestrained, playing as if in a game with their human cohorts. The show is a display of horsemanship in the purest form—without restraint or whip.

Dreamy white Lusitano stallions run at full gallop around the 150-foot wide stage while the performers guide them gently by gesture and persuasion. This training is based "on a relationship of trust rather than dominance", according to Andre Dallaire, DVM, MVSc.

He continues to note that Cavalia's equine relationship-style of training includes work with a group of Quarter Horses with no previous show experience.

"I'm pretty much a Quarter Horse person and was delighted to see Quarter Horses perform freely, as well as the Lusitano stallions and other breeds," said Dolores Baker of North Bend, Washington. She is a Quarter Horse breeder and an equine artist. Dolores brought her husband to Cavalia with her. "I really didn't want to come at first," replied Norman Baker. "But this is quite a show—I'm impressed!"

Equine artists include, of course, the fabulous Lusitano Stallions from the South of France, Quarter Horses, and a few performers from draft breeds such as Percherons and Belgians.

The white Lusitano is one of the most ancient breeds of horses and most pure. Originally from the Iberian Peninsula, modern day Portugal and Spain, they are easily trained and excel in dressage, jumping, driving, and as pleasure mounts. They are also the stars of the show.

"The horses all speak French, not English," said Normand Latourelle, president and artistic director of Cavalia, during a tour of the VIP tents. "So ask your questions in French," he joked.

Audiences feel the deep relationship and mutual love between man and beast most when performer Frederic Pignon chases and gets chased by two of his stallions Templado and Aetes. The latter shares a tender moment with the show's co-director during the program.

It's not all horses though, the circus includes acrobats, contortionists, aerialists, live musicians and singers, and dreamy scenery projected on the back curtain. Special effects include a rainfall and leaves that actually drop onto audience members.

When you go to see Cavalia, be prepared for surprises, look left, look right, and look into the scenery. Look up and look to the sides of the stage—this is, after all, a circus, and you could miss things hidden in the shadows if you're not attentive.

The audience from the Seattle area was very attentive. There was constant applause for the spectacular stunts. Sometimes even a horse can become a bit of a ham—and the fans love that. Cavalia is proof that a gentle bond between man and animal can be created, and all with a spirit of fun and joy.

"I thought it was pretty cool," said 18-year-old Brian Redd from Spokane, Washington. "I liked the horses galloping back and forth—the trick riding—people hanging off the side of the saddle. And the women!" "Yeah, the women!" agreed friend Zack Bryant. "The trick riding spiced it off—like Beethoven's music, how it's all silent, then it goes really loud—it picked up the pace of the show."

Because of sell-out attendances and the need for extending dates, the tour doesn't have a hard schedule, however they plan to tour the U.S. for three years. They had so much success on the West Coast, they will first return to the San Francisco area, then back to Los Angeles and visit Dan Diego before embarking on an Eastern tour of the States in 2005. Horse fans interested in attending Cavalia can find out tour dates as they materialize, by logging on to their website at www.cavalia.net.

The Cavalia tour started in Shawinigan, a town in the Quebec Province between the cities of Quebec and Montreal. They toured Québec, Toronto, Ontario, Montréal, and back to Québec in the fall of 2003, winter of 2004, then moved to San Francisco, and Los Angeles (Glendale) this winter before moving to Seattle. Cavalia is scheduled to close late in 2006 back in Canada in Montreal, Quebec where it all began.

All photos ©2004 Tina Hines. Article ©2004 Charlene Keys and Tina Hines.
Click photos to see a larger version

Cavalia creator Normand Latourelle introduces cast members to the audience.

Sisters Estelle and Magalia Delgado dance on white Lusitano stallions with a theatrical backdrop on the backscreen.

Estelle and Magalia Delgado and their stallions take a bow.

Frederic Pignon gets a kiss from Spanish-Frison stallion Aetes.

White Lusitano stallions 17-year-old Templado and 13-year-old Aetes bow for trainer Frederic Pignon.

Trick rider Enrique Suarez rides Roman style after vaulting over a post held by fellow acrobats.

Frederic Pignon with Zazabelou, a 7-year-old buckskin Lusitano stallion.

Cavalia co-producer and performer Frederic Pignon signs posters for young fans in the V.I.P. tent following a performance

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