A rider and an aerialist in Cavalia.
In Review


5 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars - 'Outstanding - Starkie!'
White Big Top, San Jose
Starring 49 horses, and 33 artists, acrobats and dancers
July 18th through August 12th
Review by Cy Ashley Webb

To learn more about Cavalia, watch the video below that includes an inside look at the show, plus an interview with founder Normand Latourelle.

A rider and an aerialist in Cavalia. (Photo:Frédéric Chéhu)

Ever since 2003, Cavalia has been attracting die-hard fans who follow Normand Latourelle, his horses and artists with the same passion that deadheads reserved for Jerry Garcia.  That kind of loyalty exists for  one-of-a-kind experiences.  While there are many circuses and animals shows out there, only Cavalia provides a transcendent experience of man and beast.

Saying Cavalia is about the relationship between the horse and man, is rather like saying that the Rolling Stones are about rock music.  The statement is absolutely true, but it doesn’t come close to explaining the magic that happens whenever the big white tents roll into town. The thundering of the horse hooves, the mysteries of the video and even the cool air that hits the audience in the face when it rains on stage are guaranteed to take you out of your virtual life and get you re-centered back in the world of your senses.  Even at intermission, I didn’t see a single person escaping into a cell phone.  All of us were back in the world – at least for this point in time.

WATCH: Inside Cavalia – Backstage at an acrobat “audition” (Video)

Cavalia is not just for horse lovers. It’s for anyone whose computer and cell phone threaten to turn him into a zombie.

For many folks, Cavalia is primarily a spiritual experience.  As Latourelle remarked “Cavalia is … an ode to beauty, a freedom fantasy, a hymn to harmony [and] one step toward a new complicity.”  Like most things, it sounds better in French.

Cavalia est..

Un hymne à la beauté

Uun rê ve de liberté sauvae

Un soufflé d’harmonie

Un passage vers la complicité.”

This “complicity” between horse and man is explained by Latourelle’s friend Raôul Dougay. Dougay points out that in mastering the horse, man became freer. The horse, who is naturally a fearful animal, experiences his own freedom when provided with food, shelter and understanding. Speaking of man and beast, Dougay asks “isn’t it time for them to reconcile?”

Riders and their horses in Cavalia. (Photo: Lynne Glazer)

Enacting this reconciliation is the heart of Cavalia. It is achieved through a unique means of horse training, in which the trainer doesn’t force horses to do unnatural tricks, but rather, listens to them and plays with them. During the first traveling shows in 2003 and 2004, this philosophy was personified in the signature performers Frédéric Pignon, Magali Delgado, and the majestic Lusitano Templado. While Pignon, Delgado, and Templado no longer perform (indeed, there are only three Lusitanos in the entire equine cast), their spirit informed the performance in San Jose.

An aerialist in Cavalia. Photo: Lynne Glazer

With the exception of different equine and human performers, the show is essentially the same one that has toured since 2004, with identical videos, music and programming. Since that time, I’ve had the privilege of seeing it five or six times in different venues throughout California. This sameness is not a drawback. Just as the proverbial deadhead could demand “Don’t Fade Away” again and again, while hangng on every nuance in the delivery, diehard Cavalia fans do the same with these shows. That said however, the video and project displays that made Cavalia one-of-a-kind back in 2004, have become more commonplace, particular in theatre and opera. Appreciating this, Cavalia has developed a second show called Oydsseo, which is presently in Canada.

Cavalia is not just for horse lovers.  It’s for anyone whose computer and cell phone threaten to turn him into a zombie. There’s a lot of that going around these days because demand has been so overwhelming that the shows have been extended until August 12th.

WATCH: Inside Cavalia, interview with founder Normand Latourelle

For more gorgeous photos of Cavalia, be sure to gallop on over to the Stark Insider Facebook page.

Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.