What has four legs and rocks?

Cavalia canters into Denver

Gary Zeidner | Boulder Weekly

John Elway walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “Why the long face?” No wait. I mean, a horse walks into a bar, and the bartender asks, “What’ll you have, Mr. Elway?” Nope, that’s still not it. Let’s see. Sarah Jessica Parker walks into a bar, and the bartender says, “The usual Cosmo, Trigger?” Damn it! How about, a horse walks into a bar and says, “Ow!” Hmm? Close, but no cigar. Oh yeah, I’ve got it. A horse walks into a bar, and the bartender asks, “Why the long face?” Excelsior!


There’s nothing like a show that truly celebrates not just horses but the age-old and vital relationship between horse and man to remind one of some awesome equine humor. (And yes, those jokes in the first paragraph are, in fact, awesome. If you don’t think so, go back and read them again. If you still don’t think they’re the height of hilarity, you can make like a banana and fuck off.)

Cavalia, which is pronounced “kuh-vahy-uh” rather than the second grade, sound-it-out pronunciation “kuh-vail-ee-uh,” is the brainchild of former Cirque du Soleil honcho Norman Latourelle. Where Cirque eschews using any animals in its productions, Latourelle created Cavalia specifically to showcase the power and beauty of, arguably, man’s true best friend, the horse.

Featuring 52 horses of 12 different breeds — Arabian, quarter horse, pure Spanish, paint, Lusitano, Appaloosa, Belgian, Comtois, Canadian, Criollo, Percheron and Warmblood — Cavalia dazzles on multiple levels. For the horsey set, just seeing the various breeds performing up close is a treat. Each animal is a marvelous example of its type. For people whose only experiences with a horse are ones with the words “saw” or “rocking” in front of them, Cavalia offers
up thrill after thrill as the acts build in pace and intensity. You
don’t have to know hoof from mane to be impressed by these animals as
they perform at unbelievable levels of proficiency.

Joining, leading, accompanying, directing and loving the 52 horses on stage are 40 human performers including, as with Cirque du Soleil productions, a group of live musicians who provide the soundtrack for the evening. Acrobats tumble on, over and around their four-legged co-stars. Accomplished riders guide the horses through choreographed routines, breakneck sprints and multiple jumps. One woman even commands eight horses at once in a series of intricate formations using only verbal cues — she has no whip, no ropes and no treats to tempt the animals.

Many of Cavalia’s acts date back to Will Rogers era, Old West-style antics. Riders vault back and forth over stampeding stallions or ride two horses at once, with one foot on each. Other acts feel more Ringling Bros., like the tumbler who does flips while standing on the back of a horse running in tight circles. Then, there are the more modern variations involving horse and rider interacting with counterparts suspended by bungees from the tent top.

What Cavalia does best — and far better than an earlier iteration I saw many years ago — is incorporate all the horsemanship with more traditional Cirque-type acts. The blow off, for example, features not only dozens of horses and riders tearing up the stage but a Chinese pole, a suspended hoop and five or six other spectacles all happening simultaneously, and all of the action is orchestrated to complement rather than compete. The audience’s eyes flow effortlessly from one astounding feat to the next.

Whether you’ve ridden English or Western since before you were old enough to reach the stirrups or you think dressage is the act of making fine ladies’ garments, you’ll get a kick out of Cavalia.

On the Bill

Cavalia plays
through Oct. 17 at the Pepsi Center grounds. Tickets are
$29.50-$189.50. For tickets or information, visit www.cavalia.net.