Geneva Anderson digs into art

In Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna,” it’s the women who astound—through January 12, 2014, under the Grand Chapiteau, AT&T Park, through January 12, 2014

“Amaluna’s” most evocative performance comes from the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) who  builds a 45 pound Calder-like mobile from thirteen huge palm leaf ribs that are held in balance by the weight of a feather.  Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

“Amaluna’s” most evocative performance comes from the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) who builds a 45 pound Calder-like mobile from thirteen huge palm leaf ribs that are held in balance by the weight of a feather. Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

Dazzling, daring, elegant— Cirque du Soleil’s newest touring show, Amaluna, is a celebration of female power that invites the audience to a mysterious island governed by muscle-toned Goddesses and guided by the cycles of the moon.  Amaluna opened last Friday under the Grand Chapiteau at San Francisco’s AT&T Park where it runs through January 12 and then moves on to San Jose on January 22.  If you’re looking for some excitement to stave off the daylight savings/winter time blues, Amaluna is well worth crossing the bridge for.  It features an enthralling combination of art and agility-testing acrobatics that involve legs and arms and whole bodies being supported in unnatural positions by nothing more than a long rung of twisted rope, a thin bar or a fellow human as a pedestal—all beautifully lit and staged.

The poetic title expresses it all, a fusion of the words for “mother” and “moon.”  And while it’s heavy on the XX chromosome, Amaluna is at its core a love story about all forms of love— between family, lovers and friends.

Loosely based on “The Tempest,” Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” and ancient Greek mythology, Amaluna is directed by Diane Paulus, the talk of the town.  She’s a leading Broadway producer and the artistic director of Harvard University’s American Repertory Theatre, who recently netted a Tony Award for her Broadway revival of “Pippin” and whose Porgy and Bess, which opened at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre a few days ago, is getting rave reviews.

Amaluna transforms Shakespeare’s wizard Prospero into Shamanic Queen Prospera (Julie McInnes) whose daughter, Miranda, on the brink of womanhood, is her utmost priority.  For kicks though, satin-clad Prospera plays her midnight blue Cello like a rocker from Heart.  You’d never believe that energetic McInnes, a 14-year Cirque veteran, is 52 and played in the orchestra pit in O and Ka, as she owns this stage.

Having been brought up on a remote island where female Goddesses and Amazons use their powers freely, daughter Miranda (contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova) dreams big dreams.  Early in the show, she slowly twists and balances herself impossibly on one arm on a pole on a platform atop a hot tub sized glass water bowl, wearing a bikini that miraculously manages to stay put as she moves through a series of poses that will leave yoga practitioners transfixed.  The tub, alight in green and blue, is just one of Scott Peck’s visually hypnotic sets in this dream-like performance.

Contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova is Miranda is Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna.”  After taking a playful swim in a glorious onstage glass waterbowl, she emerges dripping wet in a bikini to balance along the edge of the bowl and bends herself like pretzel into all sorts of shapes.  Talk about abs!   Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

Contortionist Iuliia Mykhailova is Miranda is Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna.” After taking a playful swim in a glorious onstage glass water bowl, she emerges dripping wet in a bikini to balance along the edge of the bowl and bends herself like pretzel into all sorts of shapes. Talk about abs! Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

When Prospera conjures a fierce sea storm that summons men to their island so that her daughter can come of age, Miranda is smitten with buff Romeo (Evgeny Kurkin).  Romeo sports his strength in an astounding Chinese pole climbing act where he supports himself horizontally in mid-air, making it look effortless, and then releases his grip sliding head down towards the floor only to brake himself inches before impending crash by gripping his legs and stopping cold as if someone had flipped a huge off switch.

But Cali (Victor Kee), after Caliban in The Tempest—Miranda’s friend and confidant before Romeo appeared—is determined to prevent Romeo from winning her.  Half-lizard, half human, Cali sports a huge and creepy alligator tail, dreamed up by costume wizard Mérédith Caron who intentionally labored to give each of her elaborate costumes an emotional resonance as well.  As Cali slithers, preens and twists this phallic tail in every which direction, even juggling balls off of it; we are thoroughly repulsed.

Alas, the path to true love is not an easy one and the couple faces many obstacles along the way which characters, like a trio of dazzling aerial Valkyrie warriors, help subdue.  Cirque performances are known for being more about performance art and less about story.  This is also true of Amaluna, which is being billed as more story-oriented but the actual story arc is pretty hard to follow amidst the spectacle of bodies in motion, gorgeous sets and bold music.  No worries!  It’s all so engrossing that it encourages your mind to create its own internal stories while watching.

The show-stopper was a quiet and meditative moment when Prospera brings Romeo and Miranda to witness the Balance Goddess (Lara Jacobs) ritualistically create a world in equilibrium.  Accompanied by nothing but the sound of her own breath and the beating hearts of the audience, she builds a huge Calder-like mobile from thirteen palm leaf ribs that are all held in balance by the weight of a feather.  Jacobs’ movements are slow, deliberate and almost meditative as she concentrates all her attention on creating this breathtaking 45 pound sculpture before our eyes.  The audience was so enthralled, you could have heard a pin drop…but that’s what great art does, its touches our soul and takes our breath away.  As she removes the smallest piece, everything disintegrates and the young couple’s trials begin.

In “Amaluna’s” daring Teeterboard act, young men launch themselves high into the air, twisting and turning in a playful high-speed attempt to escape from their prison. They pull off several seemingly impossible feats, like landing in a handstand on another performer’s upturned palms.  Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

In “Amaluna’s” daring Teeterboard act, young men launch themselves high into the air, twisting and turning in a playful high-speed attempt to escape from their prison. They pull off several seemingly impossible feats, like landing in a handstand on another performer’s upturned palms. Costume credit: Mérédith Caron; Photo: Laurence Labat, Cirque de Soleil

Not all of the show is so enthralling.  I could have done without the clowns, especially a ridiculous scene where two clowns fall in love and deliver clown babies on stage which then roll all over the place, even off the stage. Ouch!  Overall though, Amaluna delivers two and a half hours of pure escapism.  Once inside the big top, one’s world changes immediately as the outside world and its worries fade.  The energetic and uplifting vibe starts in the bustling lobby where you are offered peacock feathers and all sorts of treats (which you pay for, except on opening night).  I was delighted with “Tempest,” a delicious special limited edition ice cream flavor developed by Humphry Slocombe and Cirque—crème fraîche-blueberry swirl—which will also be available in-store at Humphry Slocombe (2790 Harrison Street, San Francisco) beginning November 13, 2013 (while supplies last).  The huge main tent has comfortable seating that affords a great view from almost everywhere.  Of course, the sheer physicality of the performance is best enjoyed from as close as possible but no matter where you are, you’ll be dazzled.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes, one intermission

Details: Through January 12, 2014 under the Cirque du Soleil Big Top, AT&T Park, San Francisco; January 22-March 2, 2014 under the Big Top at the Taylor Street Bridge, San Jose.  Tickets: $45-$270. Info: 800-450-1480,

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Dance, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Cirque du Soleil’s new “Totem,” Mankind’s Evolution Unfolds…Aided by Crystal Man and a Giant Turtle

The Crystal Man is “Totem’s” connective tissue. He comes from space to spark life on Earth, animating the turtle’s skeleton early in the show, and he closes the show by diving into a lagoon. His costume is comprised of thousands of reflective crystals and when in motion, he becomes a spinning ball of light. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

With “Totem,” Robert Lepage and Cirque du Soleil again prove they are a match made in heaven.  Lepage’s endless imagination and Cirque’s deep pockets have led to a stunning new production that opened in San Francisco last Friday under the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) in Cirque’s Village on Wheels near AT&T Park.  Even if you’ve seen a Cirque production lately, this is a show worth seeing with lots that’s new, especially in Lepage’s signature area of technical wizardry.  Inspired by many founding myths, “Totem” loosely traces the human evolutionary journey through a series of mind-blowing specially choreographed acrobatic acts performed by elite athletes in gorgeous costumes.  A backdrop of stunning video projections bring a new dimension to the stage. “Totem,” explains Lepage, “is inspired by the foundation narratives of the first peoples and explores the birth and evolution of the world, the relentless curiosity of human beings and their constant desire to excel.  The word suggests that human beings carry in their bodies the full potential of all living beings, even the Thunderbird’s desire to fly to the top of the Totem.”

“Totem” is Lepage’s second Cirque du Soleil show.  It follows the immensely successful jaw-dropping “,” which took a whopping $165 million to launch and has been running in an enormous 1,951-seat theatre at the MGM Grand since late 2004.  “KÀ” traces the epic journey of Imperial twins who embark on an adventurous journey to fulfill their destinies and is the most technologically sophisticated show I have ever seen.  It features a giant rectangular 150 ton stage that floats and rotates in the air and can pivot from horizontal to vertical and transform into several landscapes, making things like battle scenes come alive as actors scale and rappel a vertical battlefield.  

A giant turtle at centre stage represents the origins of life on earth. Beneath its shell is an effervescent community of amphibians and fish which burst into play as artists embodying frogs launch themselves into the air and Crystal man, tucked tightly into a ball, descends from space to spark life on Earth. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

For San Francisco audiences, “Totem” also falls right on the heels of Lepage’s highly publicized and controversial production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera where some of his ingenious and expensive technology failed to perform as expected.  In the Ring’s first installment, Das Rheingold (September, 2010), the video technology, which was supposed to project imagery on 24 planks operated by a hydraulic system—the 45 ton “Valhalla machine”–failed during the climactic scene in which the Gods walk across a rainbow into Valhalla. That problem was resolved but others emerged in Die Walküre (April, 2011), the second installment, including leading ladies Deborah Voight and Stephanie Blythe both slipping on the planks of the $16 million machinery. “Totem” is not as spectacular as “KÀ,” nor does it carry the weight of Valhalla, but it makes for a wonderfully entertaining afternoon or evening and it is perfect for kids.

 Where “Totem” really excels is in the use of video projection and special effects, all masterminded by Pedro Pires, Image Content designer, in conjunction with Set and Props designer Carl Fillion and Lighting Designer Etienne Boucher.  In “Totem,” the projection screen is a virtual marsh at the rear of the stage.  The images projected are all drawn from nature and Pires shot most of them himself on travels to Iceland, Hawaii and Guatemala.  Throughout the show, these evolve in long mixes or morph to create an ever-changing tableau of gorgeous eye-popping color.  Way way cool factor—infra-red tracking cameras positioned above the stage and around the marsh detect movement and produce kinetic effects that interact with the artists’ movements in real time.  The results are poetic—water flows across beaches, molten lava streams, projected swimmers swim across the stage while real time swimmers emerge at the side.  As performers wade across projected water, projected ripples swell out from under their feet.  

“Totem” is filled with feats of dazzling artistry. Five unicyclists juggle metal bowls in an astounding display of agility, balance, synchronized control and physical grace, tossing the bowls with their feet─sometimes over their shoulders─and catching them on their heads without using their hands. Each unicyclst has their own look but together they form an integrated unit. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

 Kym Barrett’s creative costumes have ingenious attention to detail and look fabulous on these well-toned athletes.  Barrett explained in the press kit that, in brainstorming with Lepage, the idea was to create a real world that evolved into a fantastical world─from a documentary style to fantasy, keeping the human body and its possible transformations in mind at all times.  Her designs emphasize themes of evolution, nature itself and

In “Totem,” an American Indian performs a narrative dance using hoops to evoke various animals and images in a ritual that symbolizes the endless circle of life. The hoop dancing and roller skating in “Totem” are firsts for Cirque du Soleil. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil

changes of the seasons, traditional cultural and tribal designs and sophisticated surface treatment of fabric to achieve costumes that constantly interact with and adapt to the show’s ever-changing lighting. 

Most striking is Crystal man—a recurring character—who represents the life force. He descends from space and sparks life early in the show and dives into a lagoon at the close.  His dazzling costume is covered with about 4,500 crystals and reflective mirrors and when he twirls and drops down from the sky, he glistens like a falling star.  The ten performers in the Russian bars act also stand out in their vibrant op art unitards—each is different but collectively these costumes have a harlequin meets the lost civilizations of South America vibe.  Humans, scaly fishes, clowns, a toreador, cosmonauts—whatever the costume, Barrett has designed it to accentuate the bodies and all the possible movements of these outstanding performers.

For all its wizardry and outright coolness and camp, “Totem” doesn’t really present any clear-cut thesis or timeline about where mankind has come from or is going—the approach was to throw in everything and anything and mix it all up in a series of vignettes with great stunts.  It’s an environment where Planet of the Apes chimps, Darwinesque explorers, Native Americans, clowns, businessmen, Cosmonauts, and Bollywood players all meet up.  At the end of it all, my favorite act was a male female trapeze duo cleverly enacting a romance─from an innocent game of seduction to gradually intertwined bodies enthralled in a vertical dance of unusual movements and lifts. 

Trapeze artists Louis-David Simoneau and Rosalie Ducharme play a sexy game of in-air seduction, eventually intertwining their bodies in a light-hearted vertical dance. Photo: courtesy Cirque du Soleil


Cirque Facts: The cast of “Totem” comprises 51 artists from 17 countries.

The “Totem” hybrid show is the first Cirque du Soleil show to be created in such a way that it can be adapted to the reality of arenas and other venues from the very outset.

As part of the celebration festivities surrounding the 400th anniversary of Quebec City in 2008, Robert Lepage created Le Moulin á images─the largest architectural projection ever produced─on the walls of the Bunge, a massive grain silo.

In January 2012, “Totem” will travel to London to the Royal Albert Hall. 

Details:  Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem” takes place under the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top), AT&T Park, Parking Lot A, 74 Mission Rock Street, San Francisco.  Tuesdays and-Wednesdays 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and 1 p.m.; Sundays 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.  Closes: December 11, 2011.
Tickets: $55 to $360   Information and to purchase tickets:

November 10, 2011 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Precious Cargo—Cavalia Horses arrive in San Francisco for 4 weeks of magic: November 16 – December 12, 2010

Cavalia which opens November 16 in San Francisco features 54 horses representing 12 different breeds many of whom perform without bridles to hand gestures. Photo: Geneva Anderson

I love my work!  Thursday afternoon’s arrival of the Cavalia horses at their new San Francisco base at the White Big Top adjacent to AT&T Park was magical.  As a caravan of a half dozen or so huge KC Horse Transport semi-trailers pulled up to site–which is most definitely “under construction”— we got to see the unloading of these magnificent horses, one by one, and to meet Cavalia’s human team.  The horses, of course, stole the show—54 magnificent horses representing 10 different breeds— Pure Spanish Breed (P.R.E.), Quarter Horse, Arabian, Lusitano, Paint Horse, Percheron, Mustangs, Comtois, Criollo and Warmblood–that come from France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada, and the U.S.  They range in age from the 7-month-old rescue colts Rocky and Roucao to a regal Lusitano stallion named Edros, who at 18 years is the eldest of Cavalia’s performing horses.  The horses’ long journey to San Francisco began in Denver, Colorado, where they performed in September and October, and included a stop-over in Salt Lake City and a two week vacation in Elk Grove where they rested up before their San Francisco run which begins Tuesday. 

As the doors of the luxury trailers opened, we got to see just how this precious cargo travels and it’s first class all the way.  From the padded shock- absorbing floors of the temperature controlled trailer to the full complement of hay, along with a name plate and travel passport for each horse, I was impressed.  Donned in protective leg-wraps, tail guards and fabric main braids, more than 50 horses, a mix of roughly half stallions and half geldings, stepped out to meet the press and their new home without incident. 

After a vacation in Elk Grove, the Cavalia horses arrived Thursday in San Francisco where they will perform though December 12. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Most impressive was the people-to-horse ratio which works out conservatively at about 2 to 1.  Cavalia doesn’t seem to cut corners —the tour employs 120 people on a permanent basis and hired 200 extras for San Francisco.  As each horse disembarked, he was handled off to his own personal assistant who led him back to an exercise area, thoroughly checked him, and later escorted him to a large comfy stall where he was groomed and fed.   Most cool though was the loving vibe that permeated the Cavalia village–Cavalia people love horses and you can sense it in their every move and so can the horses who follow them around like puppies.

There’s nothing like a baby to get people oohing and awing.  When rescue colts Rocky and Roucao— newbies to trailering and to the Cavalia lifestyle—skittishly disembarked, they looked a little shell-shocked but quickly warmed to solid land and the adoring press corp.  The giant Percheron stallions–Edros and Emilio–stole my heart with their commanding physical presence, ham-bone personalities and extreme gentleness.   While the breed’s exact origin is unknown,  the Percheron was originally bred as a war horse, and turned up in France’s Perche Valley in the 17th  Century and was brought to the US in the 1930’s where it was used almost exclusively as a draft and range horse.  The breed has recently experienced a renaissance here in the States and it’s not uncommon to see these one ton plus beauties perform in horse shows.   

Cavalia’s founder Canadian Normand Latourelle, who also co-founded Cirque du Soleil, was on hand supervising the activities.  In addition to Thursday’s arrival of the Cavalia horses, the Cavalia village was going up—nine tents including the White Big Top tent which is 110 feet high–the equivalent of a ten story building– with a 160-foot-wide stage that is large enough to allow horses to reach a full gallop as they race past the audience.  This is

7 month old rescue colt Roucao bounds out of the trailer, happy to be on solid ground. Photo: Geneva Anderson

where the magic occurs. And thanks to new technology that allows for stunning multimedia effects, that magic has evolved since Cavalia was last here seven years ago explained Latourelle.   The horses will frolic with acrobats, aerialists, dancers and entertainers in front of a constantly changing background, projected on a 200 ft wide screen, transporting the spectators into amazing dream-like virtual settings.  The audience is just a few feet-away, seated theatre-style facing this enormous stage, taking it all in.

Latourelle explained that “Cavalia” is actually a “made up poetic name” that captures the essence of how man connects with horse which is really the driving theme of the show.  Cavalia is the result of a 10 year quest to find a dramatic way to incorporate the power of horses and their mysterious beauty into a captivating multi-media experience that is “absolutely unique” and “unforgettable.”  With special effects like images projected against a sheet of water, the experience is certainly dramatic but most of the people I’ve spoken with about Cavalia remember the horses themselves with their flowing manes and tails and the intimacy of the connection between man and horse which sparks a kind of yearning in them.   How ironic that Latourelle whose vision has molded Cavalia into a wildly successful show, doesn’t ride horses himself and jokes off all attempts to get him to try it.  “I knew nothing about horses before this and obviously now I know a lot more.  I get a thrill every time I see these horses move.  In fact, I fell in love with the aspect of the horse as a performer, but I’ll stick to what I do best which is the business of selling that to the world.” 

The Cavalia horses are all males—stallions and geldings.  When I asked Latourelle about the added difficulty of working with stallions who are more spirited and more difficult to train and work with he said “Actually these guys are pretty calm and not so difficult because they have never been around mares so they don’t know what they are missing.  They are just like boys, if they get it just once, they want it all the time.  We hope they never get any.” 

What followed next was Cavalia star Sylvia Zerbini working over a dozen Arabian horses in an arena on her “Liberty act.”  The horses, all grey, except for a young black stallion, entered the tented arena prancing, playing, and full of energy–like a glorious carousel that came to life—but quickly responded to the petite Zerbini’s every command.  The Liberty act features horses performing while remaining unbridled and free, or “at liberty.”  Zerbini controls them with hand signals and about 10 vocal commands that vary in tone and pitch.  This is where words fail me.  Watching those horses move freely is something that a thousand over-used adjectives can’t begin to touch…you feel it deep in your core .   

Cavalia's Arabian horses practice the "Liberty act," as they respond to trainer Sylvia Zerbini's hand and voice commands. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Cavalia’s Arabian horses are between 4 and 13 years in age and have been sold to Cavalia through many channels but their preparation for performing Cavalia-style requires years of training which is done at the farm in Canada.  

“Sometimes when we buy a horse, it has been ridden before but Sylvia doesn’t really ride them except bareback and with no bit or bridle.  She occasionally jumps them” explained Latourelle.  “We have been touring for seven years now and when we introduce new horses, we will do it gradually, carefully in a process we call “illumination” where we keep some of the audience, a few hundred or so, after a show and the horses slowly get to understand what the public is.”

Zerbini has toured with Cavalia for three years now but began as a Cavalia trainer at the farm in Canada for 6 months before joining the tour.  She replaced Cavalia’s former equestrian co-directors, the internationally celebrated husband and wife team Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado, who now reside in France’s Loire Valley and no longer work with Cavalia.  “We started in North American and then toured a lot in Europe and they didn’t make that move back with us to North America, which is where we’ve been since 2009,” explained Latourelle, “so we a have new equestrian director and new artists.” 

Sylvia Zerbini works to pose the horses for a group easy task. Photo Geneva Anderson

“She looks relaxed but she is aware of everything in the ring at all times,” explained Latourelle. “Look how they come to her with so much affection…it’s just amazing.” Indeed, Zerbini appears to be in perfect communion, reading the horses and getting back messages that range from “we’re having fun” to “I don’t understand what you want.” 

“They have been on vacation for two weeks,” says Zerbini, “so they are a little excited right now but what you are seeing here is horses playing and socializing just as they would in the wild.  You see how they are hanging out—the stallions on one side and the geldings on the other, that’s nature.”   

As Zerbini holds court, she seems perfectly comfortable with mediating squabbles that come up with her boys, the most common of which is biting their team member in the butt or giving a hefty shove that provokes retaliation.  The new black stallion, who is just 4, was bought a year and half ago.  He is a bit uncomfortable with the others and he stays close to Zerbini, like a child clinging to his mother on the first day of school.  He currently works one show and then has two shows off and is being eased into the performing life.  “This is his future place,” explains Latourelle, he just doesn’t understand it yet, nor does he know he is black.”

Standing just inches away from the path they cut on the edge on the arena, my heart surged as I moved in to take a picture of the galloping horses racing by.  The feeling was primal, pure elation, deep in my gut.  As the group calmed down some, I noticed that the horses frequently came to Zerbini to both give and receive affection.  Witnessing that was both healing and exhilarating.

Sylvia Zerbini works to pose the horses for a group easy task. Photo Geneva Anderson

The process of posing the horses for a group press portrait was humorous and very similar to the antics we all go through to obtain a family portrait.  It started with getting them into a line and all facing the same way and then trying to get them to all keep behaving so they looked like a loving family.  The urge to nip is sometimes irresistible and just as Zerbini would coax one horse into posing, another would act out with antics of his own.  Slowly, and with a quiet grace, it came together.  

Next, Cavalia star performer Gregory Molina demonstrated Roman riding—a feat of balance and control that entails standing on the backs of two horses simultaneously as they gallop around the arena.  The sport hails back from Roman times when Roman generals stood on their horses’ backs to survey the battle field.  It was later adapted by Hungarian “post riders”—these were mail delivery workers who discovered they could carry more mail if they stood on their horses and rode as opposed to having one horse carry the mail and one horse carry the rider.  

Sylvia Zerbini works to pose the horses for a group easy task. Photo Geneva Anderson

At Cavalia, specific horses are used for each act and specific riders will work only with those horses that they click best with.  Cavalia uses Quarter horses for Roman riding because they are good at the fast quick bursts of energy the sport requires and they tend to be calm.  

At Latourelle’s urging, Fairland Ferguson jumped in next to do an impromptu demonstration of her Roman riding skills, not wearing any riding boots at all. Ferguson hails from Virginia and came to Cavalia as an experienced trick and Roman rider a year ago and loves performing before a huge crowd.   With masses of red hair, riveting blue-green eyes, and a fearless persona, she acts a lot like the lost twin of Olympic snow-boarder Shaun White.  She admits that she took quickly to these more experimental and dangerous forms of riding.  “I started out riding Western Pleasure and liked it, but it was pretty boring.  When I realized that I could go really fast and have no rules per se, I was all over it.”  During one of her laps around the ring she shouted exuberantly, “It’s just like skiing, except your skis have minds of their own and you’re not hooked in with bindings.” 

The protocol for taking a fall—which happens every now and then— is “styling it off” and continuing the routine, making it seem like it’s no big deal.  Ask any Cavalia performer though, and they will tell you that the majority of mistakes that occur result from human error—not being adequately prepared or anticipating.  “We’ve done a lot of training and preparation and you can’t control everything, but we like to think that we have really tried to minimize the risk and done everything to ensure the smoothest and safest show possible,” said Ferguson.

Cavalia's resident femme daredevil, Fairland Ferguson, demonstrates Roman riding as she straddles two galloping Quarter horses. Photo: Geneva Anderson

We finished our afternoon with a walk through the stables, meeting horses, workers and experiencing horses being groomed and loved.  Each horse has approximately two hours of play time a day and works about an hour a day.  They are groomed and washed down daily and when it’s show time, an elaborate mane-styling can take hours.  

That gorgeous Cavalia poster that is up EVERY WHERE advertising the San Francisco show is actually a drawing based on Cavalia’s beloved Lusitano stallion Templado—he’s the horse that is universally associated with Cavalia and he died in 2008.  Try Googling “Templado” you will come upon hundreds of images of this luminous angel.  

Back to Latourelle with the two final questions:

GA:  “Normand, what’s next for Cavalia?  

NL:  “Actually, I am working on a brand new show which I’m hoping will be ready next August.  You’ll have to come back for that.  We know that our audience really responds to horses running free and we’re going to be emphasizing more of that and trying to get away from bridles and reins in the stunt work.  We’ve been working on this for four years now and it’s very challenging but also very exciting.  

 GA: “Do you think you’ll ever get on a horse? 

NL:  “No!  They put me on one once to take a picture and when I look at that picture, I say that’s really enough.”    

 Performance Details: Cavalia opens Tuesday, November 16, 7 p.m. and runs on most Tuesdays-Thursdays at 8 p.m, on Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m. Closes December 12, 2010. 

Location: All performances at the Cavalia Big Top Tent, 4th Street and China Basin Street, adjacent to AT&T Park, San Francisco.

Tickets: $29.50 to $229.50. “Rendez-vous” package includes pre-show meal, wine, stable tour.   (866) 999-8111 or

November 13, 2010 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments