Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Cavalia": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ baub

You have never seen anything like Cavalia. A combination of horse show and Cirque du Soleil, the horses grab the limelight but the humans managing them are astonishing as well.

Cavalia takes place in a tent near the UCSF Medical Center. They have built a stage wide enough for the horses to work up a full head of steam as they thunder across. A city person cannot get enough of it. But the horses do so much more than run. They balance, they canter, they dance. They stand on their hind legs like the Lone Ranger. They nuzzle each other on cue. The amount of hours that must go into training these animals staggers the imagination.

And don't forget the acrobats. They ride the horses right-side up and upside down, on the sides of their saddles, under them, bareback, barefoot, they do flips and pommel-horse moves on them as the horses are at full speed. They ride on two horses at once, or four, or six, or eight. Aerialists suspended from wires dance, fly and pirouette around gracefully cantering animals.

Sylvia Zerbini's Grande Liberté - well, you won't believe it, that's all we're going to say. It takes up most of Act Two.

Everything doesn't work so well -- the ballets, for example. White horses, white flowing gowns, white flowing manes, blonde flowing hair, it's Elrond and Arwen at the Gates of Rivendell. You expect elves and wizards.

Which is the other part of the Cavalia experience: creator Normand Latourelle was the founder of Cirque du Soleil. So all of those irritating things about Cirque are also omnipresent in Cavalia: the music, for example, that sounds like a French Soft Jazz History Network Special. The costumes -- the beefcake and cheesecake we understand, this is show business. But why would daredevil horsemen and horsewomen be dressed in leaves like Peter Pan? Oh, and the smoke machines. The leaves and snow falling from the ceiling. If each of the horses could light a candle, they would.

But they don't. They just run and dance and nuzzle. In the end it's all about them, and their riders. And Sylvia Zerbini.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Cavalia" Four Stars with a bauble of despair. The show rates four stars for its uniqueness, and it is easy to overlook its crass commerciality. You really should see it.

But we add a bauble because if you want to take your kids, and you do, you are going to have to cancel those Corian counter tops. This is not an inexpensive production to mount, but the bottom line is Cavalia is designed to be a world-class attraction, with glitz and smoke machines to match. Somebody has to pay for it. Do you take your family to Cirque du Soleil? If so, Cavalia's prices will not seem out of line to you.

A word to the wise: PARK IN CAVALIA'S OWN LOT. There is no street parking, the nearby parking lots have broken meters and rapacious parking ticket motorazzi on the prowl. You will not escape their wrath.

If you have a horse, saddle him up. But definitely don't park him on the street unless you are willing to sit on him until the last metermaid cruises by at 8 o'clock, when the show is already starting.

White Big Top, China Basin, San Francisco
$64.50-$139.50. Some special pricing available.
Open-ended run

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