A show by the co-producer of Cirque du Soleil . . . with horses? I was intrigued as raging reviews filled the media yet I could not quite grasp the concept of the show, Cavalia. Opening night in San Francisco was on Tuesday, November 16th. All two thousand seats were sold out as spectators filled the tent wall-to-wall. At least that’s what I heard. Due to the popularity, I missed the opening and went to the next show which was being held two days later.
The Cavalia performance tent is set up at 4th and China Basin and you can’t miss it. The bright lights illuminate the massive white tent which is clearly seen from the Interstate 280. The parking lot is in an adjoining area and was $10 (pretty good deal considering regular parking rates in the city). As you walk up to the venue you are quickly reminded that it involves horses as you get that ‘whiff’ of nature. The bathrooms are clean with actual stalls and faucets with warm water (so much nicer than porta-potties). When I was walking out of the restroom, one lady told me it was her fifth time seeing the show and that is was amazing. She owns horses and said it was so beautiful. That being said, I was getting very excited.
The tent was nice and warm as we entered and found our seats. My daughter had her popcorn on her lap as my husband took a few pictures before the show started. During the show it is prohibited to take pictures or videos. The lights dimmed and a bit of trivia was projected on the screen. Multiple choice questions were presented as the audience was invited to raise their hand to support A, B, or C. Apparently there are 56 horses in the Cavalia stables consisting of 23 stallions and 33 geldings (neutered males).
Now to talk about the actual show. My family and I had mixed feelings. The basic storyline is supposed to be the history of the relationship between humans and horses. You are taken from ancient times, to the Roman era, and later to cowboy days in the mid-west. A secondary timeline is shown in a change of seasons. Even so, there was really no continuity as miscellaneous acts were thrown in here and there and the timeline cues were vague, kind of like a French film. My daughter kept saying, “I don’t get it…” and I couldn’t explain because, frankly, neither did I.
It was amazing to see the horses get up to full speed on the large stage where they could circle around. To get a idea of the size, an upward of 8-10 horses could be performing and only 1/3 of the stage area was being used. There were several breeds and they were simply beautiful. Their coats looked so healthy and none of the animals were forced to perform if they didn’t want to. There were a few times they had the horses enter the stage to play around before the trainer came in. Some of the horses were chasing the others, biting their behinds. That was the night’s highlight and it had my daughter giggling like crazy.
Since my family enjoys the natural beauty and strength of horses, our favorite parts of the show was when they were let free. I realize that there’s a lot of hard work involved in training horses but it just does not impress me to see them trotting diagonally or ‘dancing’ or doing synchronized circles. I can’t imagine the skill and trust to do some of these tricks with the horses yet it just does not entertain a casual spectator. My husband posted this on his Facebook account, “Horses cannot do saltos. It got interesting when some horses started biting each other.”
The human performers were interesting but not spectacular. Such acts can be seen almost anywhere with the exception of the guy doing tricks on a ball and the girl with a lasso, but she even messed up once. The music was standard and the stage effects were kind of cheesy. The comic relief got much better as the show went on, especially in the ‘western’ bit. There was a play on this traveling handkerchief that didn’t make any sense but my daughter found it funny. Everyone had to clap when a horse and rider went by holding up a San Francisco Giants flag commemorating their World Series win.
Overall, Cavalia was a unique experience. I don’t know if I could recommend it given the price tag. You might have a nice evening out but the show provides no lasting impression. After 2-1/2 hours the only thing you will be talking about is what to eat afterwards. The ones that really seemed to enjoy the performance thoroughly were the ones who either owned or worked with horses. If you are expecting a Cirque du Soliel performance-don’t. But if you love horses and want to see it, try getting discounted tickets.
Disclosure: I was provided with complementary tickets to Cavalia to facilitate this review. The opinions expressed here are 100% my honest opinion.