It's been quite an entertainment week for us. Fresh from seeing Cirque du Soleil's tribute to Michael Jackson at the Rose Garden, last Tuesday we headed to the Pearl District for Cavalia -- a horse show unlike any other.
There's a connection between Cirque du Soleil and Cavalia: Cavalia's artistic director, Normand Latourelle helped Cirque du Soleil get off the ground and was bought out by the Cirque founders. This helps explain why the Cavalia experience is so similar to the magical atmosphere of Cirque du Soleil.
Well, the parking lot wasn't anything special. But the sight of the gigantic tents housing Cavalia was. I believe the main tent is one of the largest in the world. (All photos taken in dim light with my iPhone 4, which explains the quality of the pics.)
We splurged on Rendez-vous VIP tickets. Good choice. Before the show started we got to gorge on "free" food and drinks in the Rendez-vous tent. Plus, shop for Cavalia-themed merchandise.
There were plenty of vegetarian choices for us. Pesto pasta, asparagus, hummus/pita bread, salad, and more. Plus good wine served up generously. Along with private VIP bathrooms so we Rendez-vous'ers didn't have to mingle with the plebeian Cavalia-goers when a call of nature was sensed.
Speaking of nature...
We got to Portland early to miss the worst of the late afternoon freeway tieups. Laurel headed to Whole Foods while I trekked to Powell's on Burnside, a Bookstore Wonder of the World. Browsing the new non-fiction section I ended up buying David Abram's "Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology."
Also, Abram's first book, because I could tell I was going to enjoy "Becoming Animal" a lot. I started reading "The Spell of the Sensuous" while sipping a latte in Powell's Books coffee shop, waiting for Laurel to meet me.
The book was an excellent pre-Cavalia mood primer. Abrams starts off "The Spell of the Sensuous" with:
Humans are tuned for relationship. The eyes, the skin, the tongue, ears, and nostrils -- all are gates where our body receives the nourishment of otherness. This landscape of shadowed voices, these feathered bodies and antlers and tumbling streams -- these breathing shapes are our family, the beings with whom we are engaged, with whom we struggle and suffer and celebrate. ...The simple premise of this book is that we are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.
Such is what Cavalia is all about, the horse-human relationship.
Those who expect something else, like the people who left unjustifed "Much of the show was boring" comments on a Yelp review of a Cavalia show in Burbank, are going to miss out on a full Cavalia experience.
My wife and I are decent horse riders, she more than me. So we probably were better suited than many in the audience to appreciate the astounding skills of both the humans and the horses in the show. The intimate communication between horse and rider/trainer was obvious, yet often difficult to discern explicitly, it seemed so natural.
Case in point: the woman in the second act who engages in a spectacular display of equine choreography with six horses, standing on the sandstrewn Cavalia stage with just her soft voice and a flexible "stick" to control the horses.
A dog trainer would be hard pressed to get six border collies to do what the stallions (or geldings) were accomplishing with seeming ease. Three would circle in one direction, while the other three would circle the other way. Then one horse would break out of the pattern and do something different.
There's also quite a bit of non-horse performing in the show, probably because the horses need a break now and then. Some of the acrobatics and dancing didn't seem to have much connection with anything horse'ish, but that was fine with me.
Again, this isn't Cirque du Soleil. The non-horse stunts aren't the core of Cavalia. When a bunch of stallions gallop by after an acrobatic interlude, the energy of the show ramps up again.
After it was over, we Rendez-vous ticket holders got a tour of the stables. The horses were being fed, so most had their heads down, munching away, which made my iPhone photography kind of difficult.
(Note: if you also get a chance to walk through the stables, make sure you know how to turn your camera's flash off. It was irritating to see some people flashing away in horse's faces, even though they were repeatedly told "no flash photography.")
Each horse has its own quite-cushy stall. Here's Laurel gazing into one.
We saw a young woman braiding manes. She does a great job. That'd be a cool thing to put on a resume, "Mane braider for a touring horse show."
I didn't know horses got into postures like this. This young horse cozied up to the wall of its stall just like our dog does. Serena loves to curl up on her back, with her paws pressed against something solid.
When I came to a stall where the occupant was standing up and posing nicely, I had to take advantage of the opportunity.
Bottom line, Portlanders: go see Cavalia. It'll be in town until December 4. You'll enjoy it even if you aren't a super horse-lover, but it'll mean more to you if you are.
Here's some You Tube videos of Cavalia. Enjoy the two-dimensional experience, which naturally isn't the same as being there.
Last observation: quite a few Burbank complainers thought the Cavalia seating was very uncomfortable. We don't agree. The folding seats have backs, and they aren't painful "buckets" like some Yelp commenters said. Cavalia is a Canadian show. Probably the seats were designed for normal human bodies, not oversized/overfed American butts.