Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Beautiful Encounter Between
Horse and Man in Cavalia

Also see Richard's review of Levee James

The acclaimed Canadian production of Cavalia is having its United States premiere in the big white tent in back of Pac Bell Park through March 5th. The show involves more then 60 performers including 33 magnificent horses, riders, aerialists, acrobats and dancers as well as musicians, a vocalist and the famous European 'horse-whisperer,' Frederic Pignon and his wife, trainer and rider Magali Delgado. The 160 foot wide stage consists of dirt and sand and and is adapted to accommodate the horses and the riders, who perform in front of a constantly changing background projected on a 200 foot wide screen. This is Cirque du Soleil meets an equestrian show. Cavalia is a fairy tale like show that is wonderful to behold.

Lovers of equestrian arts, you will flip over this 2 ½ hour production with intermission. Those who know little about equine shows will enjoy it also. As Jean Beaunoyer of the La Presse Newspaper in Montreal says "even for people like me who know little about equestrian arts, the show is fascinating." Glen Dumi, of NOW Newspaper, Toronto, gives it "Four legs good!" As for myself, I happen to be a one of those persons who loves the movement and gracefulness of horses. My first job at the old Republic studios in the late 1940s was filming their "oaters."

From the opening moments, where two horses wander lazily onto a sand and dirt stage with the wide screen flashing passages about horses (sayings like "The noblest conquest of man is to have gained the friendship of a horse," by Count de Buffon), followed by a gypsy-like troupe of riders and acrobats which looks like a scene from a Cecil B. Mille movie, you know you are in for an ethereal and powerful evening. Behind them is a gigantic scrim bearing ancient images of horses and their riders. A large orchestra plays dreamy music behind the scrim.

Cavalia starts small but continually builds as each scene rapidly goes into another amazing sequence involving many of the acrobatic feats one would see in the Cirque du Soleil, including trapezes artists, an amazing balancing on a gigantic ball, acrobats building a human tower as trapeze artists fly above them and horses racing across the stage bearing acrobatic riders hopping on and off - forwards and backwards. An astonishing bungee number involves two young acrobats and riders as they dismount and remount from the horse's head in harmony with sensual music being played by the live orchestra. There is even "snow" falling from the top of the tall tent.

Cavalia's many amazing scenes include a Roman scene straight out of Ben Hur where three riders each stand with a foot planted on the backs of two adjacent horses that race around the oval and jump over poles. The backdrop is an enormous projection of the Roman Coliseum. The action gets faster in the second act and evoke the Wild West shows that were so popular in the 19th Century. Trick riders race their horse from one side of the large stage to the other with the riders doing amazing things like getting on and off horses at terrifying speed, picking up objects from the ground.

Cavalia also has many wonderful dreamlike scenes, such as one in which six white horses and their riders perform a dainty minuet, faultlessly following a complex pattern of steps. The show's piece de resistance involves trainer-performer Frederic Pignon leading three white horses to center stage and guiding them through a gentle and romantic dance. It is a riveting sight when he plays alone with the horses, whispering his wishes and gently guiding with a hand.

Cavalia truly sets itself apart from anything I have seen before, with its visual concept and the astonishing beauty and pride of the horses. The production plays in the tall white tent directly behind Pac Bell Park, San Francisco through March 5th. Tickets are available by calling 1-866-999-8111 or online at

Photo: Frédéric Chéhu

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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