Election Section

Patrons Can Now See Multimedia Show Without Guilt

Friday July 30, 2004

For those who love horses but won’t cross a picket line there is no need to worry. After a rough start, Cavalia, the horse and multimedia extravaganza, and the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) signed a contract late Monday night that resolved a heated labor dispute, shutting shut down the picket line that surrounded the production’s tent. 

Workers from IATSE started picketing Sunday after they learned that Cavalia had shipped in “gypsy” or traveling stage hands to set up their show instead of hiring local union workers as is the tradition in the Bay Area. Although they originally claimed union labor would be too expensive, representatives from Cavalia bowed to pressure from the union, the City of Berkeley, and the Central Labor Council, signing a contract that meets industry standards. 

Starting Tuesday, local union workers were hired and will be used to complete the set-up and then hired again to dismantle the various tents and main stage. 

“I think that they recognized the commitment that the city had made to us, the commitment that the Central Labor Council had made to us, and of course our commitment of standing out on the line,” said IATSE Business Representative Charma Ferreira. 

Martin Roy, the publicist for Cavalia, said the production signed the agreement because they were worried that hostilities between the two groups would grow and distract from the show itself. 

As a result, the audience can now enjoy the show when it starts Aug. 5, running through Aug. 15. Unlike any other in the world, the show combines multimedia elements, with horses, and acrobatics. Sometimes dubbed as horse ballet or Cirque du Soleil with horses, it is sure to entertain both horse lovers and regular attendees alike, say the producers. 

Created by Normand Latourelle, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, the show’s theme was originally developed when Latourelle saw a horse draw the audience’s attention at a performance, leaving the 150 other performers on stage looking like side acts. With experience in producing shows and events even bigger and bolder that Cirque du Soleil, Latourelle said he had never seen anything like it. 

“They are a star for real,” said Latourelle. “They don’t need a costume, just put it out there and the aesthetic is there.” 

He began to play with the idea of horses, and, as he did when he started Cirque du Soleil, thought about how he could re-invent a standard kind of show. When he originally came upon Cirque du Soleil, he said, it was a group of street performers who smoked a lot of pot and were followed by a street band. With his help, the show re-examined the art of the circus, eventually propelling it into the light as one of the most successful traveling productions ever. 

For Cavalia, he took the same approach. He went to rodeos, formal equestrian shows and studied horses tirelessly. He then took his performance and multimedia background and tried to imagine how to combine the two. 

“I thought I could re-invent the approach,” said Latourelle. Not knowing horses helped him push the envelope. He began to question trainers about what a horse could do. He suggested attaching one to a bungie of some sort, or using huge screens to project images that the horses could interact with. Each time he was shot down, told that the horse would be spooked. But after a little persistence he convinced the trainers, tried several of his ideas and found that horses responded well. 

During his search he ran into Frederic Pignon and his wife Magali Delgado, horse trainers and performers well-known on the European circuit. Latourelle went to meet with them and see their horses. Instead of bringing the horses into a ring, which is the custom, Pignon, believed by many to be a horse whisperer, took Latourelle into a field and began to play with the horses, who seemed to play back. Latourelle knew immediately that his show was born.  

Today the show includes Pignon and his wife along with 28 other performers who play with and ride the horses, perform gymnastic tricks and in all ways push the limits of typical performance.  

It’s hard to describe in detail what the experience is like, says Latourelle. “I could barely explain what Cirque du Soleil is about, now that everyone knows what it is,” he said. He hopes the same will be true for Cavalia. 

Most important, says Latourelle, the show is driven by the horses. They decide how long they want to be on stage and when they want to leave. The easiest way to describe the theme is the relationship between horse and man, he says.  

Every detail is included to insure that the horses have the freedom to express themselves fully during the performance. The show currently uses the largest mobile tent in the world, designed around the horses. Instead of a ring in the middle which would maximize the seating, the audience sits in stadium seating in front a stage 160 feet long: the distance a horse needs in order to get up to full speed. 

Behind the stage is a 210-foot screen that captures images created by 20 different projectors. At one point water streams down from the roof and images are screened onto it. On the stage there are 2,000 tons of dirt and up above is a grid that is 100 feet across, which holds a surround sound system. And although unseen for much the show, a live band that sits behind the screen provides the music. 

The live band, said Latourelle, is needed because they can improvise and conform to the horses, unlike a sound track. 

“[The horses] don’t come to do tricks, they come to play,” said Latourelle. 

And of course, there are the horses. The majority are Lusatanos, which are a breed originally from Portugal, but Cavalia’s are from a farm in southern France. With long mains, and white hair, Latourelle thinks they could easily be the most beautiful horse alive. There are also Belgian, Gitano, and Quarter horses and almost all 30 are stallions. 

When all the elements comes together, Latourelle said the best way to describe the event is “like a big poem for the eyes and the ears.” And for those who still don’t know exactly what to expect, he says the only way to find out is to come.