Culture & Conversation

If Horses Had Wings

Under a big white tent on Decarie Boulevard lies a 160-foot long arena, a 210-foot projection screen, and a dense, cramped audience seating of 2000. Cavalia is back in town. Created by Cirque du Soleil co-founder Normand Latourelle as “an homage to the poignant history and fascinating bond between human beings and horses”, this larger-than-life performance may raise eyebrows among animal activists. “What, a history of domination?” a friend of mine scoffed. But rest assured, the horses are well cared for, and there is little sense of human domination. Sometimes they seem to run the show.

The stallions and geldings nip and prance and kick, occasionally falling out of formation, gently guided back into submission under the watchful eye of trainers. The horse stunts themselves are impressive feats of synchronization, if at times imperfectly executed. In that imperfection, however, lies the charm of the performance. An intense live band performs an original score by Michel Cusson and adds to the sense of spontaneity.

Paired with the intricate horse training, the acrobatics of the show never fail to impress, with brightly colored costumes flying through the air, the company flipping and twirling and jumping and flying with all the stunning ease of seasoned gymnastic performers. The first glimpse of horses silently galloping onstage induces a collective gasp from the audience. They seemed to fly, hooves barely touching the ground, their massive bodies apparently weightless. Acrobats run alongside them onstage, somehow blending in with the incredible movement of the animals.

While the visual effects are impressive, it is unfortunate that the artistic arrangement of Cavalia is at times perplexing and disconnected. The performance is divided into loosely modeled historic segments. One routine emulates classical Roman times, aqueducts projected on stage as a performer barrels into the arena astride four horses at once. Another segment mimics Native American dress and culture, lush green foliage projected in the background of the arena. Another recreates a cowboy western.

The connection between routines is arbitrary at best, confused at worse. If you expect some profound and coherent statement on the horse/human relationship, it is not to be found at Cavalia. Instead, the performance showcases the beauty and skill of the horses, a mesmerizing display of aerial acrobatics and intensive horse training.

On opening night, this kind of display was exactly what the horse aficionados in the crowd were looking for. The audience gave a thunderous standing ovation at the close of the show. While any cohesive artistic statement is hard to extract, and animal rights activists may feel ambivalent about the proceedings, for horse-lovers and Cirque du Soleil fans, Cavalia is worth the visit.
Cavalia continues until May 31. Tickets range from $44 to $185. For tickets, call 866-999-8111 or see website at

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