A week and a bit ago, I went to see the opening night show of “Cavalia” here in Calgary. I’ve seen lots of Cirque du Soleil shows live and been awed by all of them and yet none have come close to the brilliance of this one by the original creator of Cirque shows. There’s a magic that humans and horses make together. Save for the last one hundred years or so, the lives of humans and horses have been intertwined. The horse could probably have done without us and thrived, but how could we humans have survived without them? We owe horses a huge debt for their species’ part in helping us humans build our world. And this show was a tribute to the past as well as to a new potential for the human-horse relationship.
The performance made clear that it was a relationship between sentient beings in such a palpable way. During one part of the show, the side doors open and about fifteen young horses full of piss and vinegar run on stage, play, and kick. This part did not seem to be choreographed. The horses are in free play with each other for a few minutes until the trainer comes out to join them. I watched in awe as she lovingly called them with her voice and signaled with her body to start the “dance.” It was like watching a bunch of young children at their first performance- child-like energy abounding. At one point, one of the horses misses his cue and when he realizes it, comes straight back to the trainer to “apologize.” He nuzzles her face and she strokes his neck assuring him it is OK, gives him treats and sends him on his way. The horses LOVE her and she loves them; the respect is mutual. The extraordinary care, benevolence, and beauty moved me and I couldn’t help but think that this is what is possible in human relationships too.
The reception the show got in Calgary was nothing short of deep reverence mixed with excitement. People came wearing cowboy boots and hats. I could hear experienced horse people whispering words of awe and wonder to each other during the dressage portion of the show. For those of you that don’t know a lot about horses here’s a definition:
dressage |drəˈsä zh |
the art of riding and training a horse in a manner that develops obedience, flexibility, and balance.
It looks like a dance and is intended to mimic the mating ritual movements horses do naturally. I came away with an increased respect for the human body and its potential as I always do after a Cirque show. We can fly, flip, and move with the grace of any other animal. In the show, the human and horse run side by side and that’s when the perfection of both designs was most apparent for me. I could see by looking at the faces of the two-leggeds that they were elated at being able to play with these horses on stage. It was a performance but it didn’t feel like a performance- if that makes sense. The humans were not focused on the audience or trying to impress us. The attention was on the horses and because of that, there was an authenticity in it that was an absolute pleasure to witness. I felt honoured to be present. There were several times my eyes welled up with tears from the onrush of emotion stirred up by the beauty of human and horse dancing together. Like a good Contact Improv Dance (for those of you who know this form), you know it is working when the distinction between leader and follower is not longer apparent to viewer or dancer. The two become one entity.
Two young horses that were rescued from the slaughterhouse here in Calgary begin and end the show to wild applause by the audience. This has been all over the papers. The horses are “famous” here. The two take it all in stride and, just to bring us humans back down to earth, one of them takes a big dump in the middle of the stage before the curtain comes down! Back to grazing….
I came away with a deepened connection to the horse’s energy than I had before and with a real sense of its quiet power. I want to cultivate that more in my own life. That and simplicity, which the horse models so well for us humans who like to make things more complicated.