More than horse play

Man and animal put on an awe-inspiring performance in Cavalia.
Man and animal put on an awe-inspiring performance in Cavalia.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Review Circus


White Theatre Tent, Marina Bay Sands


There is something about a giant tent that beckons to you and promises hidden wonders within.

Stepping into the 35m-high White Theatre Tent located next to Marina Bay Sands for the opening night of Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Man And Horse, I was filled with a sense of curiosity.

Maybe it is the city kid in me speaking but I associate horses not just with great power and beauty, but also with great mystery. It is this sense of awe that permeates my experience of Cavalia, billed as an "equestrian theatrical spectacular".

The magnificent four-legged beasts are at the heart of this immense production, quite literally. They saunter, gallop, pose and trot all around the 50m-wide stage, sometimes just centimetres away from the audience.

The show starts with two white beauties galloping onstage, sans human companions. Audible gasps could be heard from the packed theatre on opening night.

Yes, the audience came to see the horses but they cannot help but watch in revered silence at the sight of their unbridled entrance.

The performers soon enter, and there is no shortage of talent in this circus.

There is a seven-man team from Guinea who will win the audience over with their bright smiles and derring-do stunts. There is a woman who can perform magic with a lasso (or two) and aerial entertainers who look beautiful as they execute death-defying stunts high up in the air.

But it is the acts involving the horses that elevate the production above other theatrical circus shows.

There is a horse whisperer moment where the animals are allowed to gallop around the stage, turning this way and that, on the command of their human trainer who barely looks like he is saying anything.

It is like watching a ballet, except that one notices the horses getting a little restless. Like a band of dancing preschoolers, one or two horses step out of line and are consequently clipped in the hind by a fellow horse.

These raw moments are charming - if only because you get to see the personalities of the horses shine through. In a mostly choreographed show that runs for over two hours, one wonders about the ethical aspects of watching trained animals do stunts, so these unplanned moments are quite welcomed.

As the horses can be unpredictable, the tricks cannot follow a set timing - so the musicians have to react accordingly. Forming the backbone of the show, the five-piece band draw out the tension where necessary to keep the performance moving along.

There was also a moment of spontaneous excitement for the audience when one of the hoofed beasts decided to loosen his bowels on stage.

Cavalia's creator Normand Latourelle was a co-founder of the reputed Cirque du Soleil, and this equestrian spectacle contains its share of high-flying acrobatics and aerial stunts. Somehow, the horses give the stunts added gravitas. The segments featuring trick riding, or stunts performed while standing or sitting astride the horse, sometimes at high speeds, are exciting.

You marvel at the performers' strength as they execute stunts, such as splits in the air and handstands, while balancing on horseback.

Cavalia does not have a strong narrative - it purports to pay tribute to the relationship between man and horse but you barely see this during the show.

However, it is enjoyable because of the sheer talent of the performers, both the two- and four-legged ones.

Look out, too, for a welcome cameo by the sole miniature horse in the show, whose enthusiasm makes up for its lack of size.

It is the raw moments of spontaneity that elevate Cavalia beyond mere horse play, adding a touch of welcome reality to the realm of the theatrical.