The horses are the stars of Cavalia. The human performers are the first to admit this.
The animals are natural performers, calmly taking the stage with dancers, a live orchestra and acrobats leaping through the air on bungee cords.
“They do it for the show,” Carey Hackett, a native of New Brunswick, Canada, who has been touring with Cavalia for the last three years, told GlobalAtlanta. “They really are outside of their element, horses being animals of flight and having girls coming down from the ceiling in front of them, all around them. They adapt very well.”
Cavalia, based in Montreal, opened in Atlanta Oct. 27 in a big white tent outside Atlantic Station in Midtown. The production, which includes more than 60 horses, will be here through Jan. 3.
Ginette Chenard, Quebec’s senior government representative in Atlanta, along with members of her staff and 40 guests, attended a recent matinee performance.
Horses are the centerpiece of Cavalia. There are 11 different breeds, from Arabian to Appaloosa, Lusitano to Comtois. Many of the horses actually enjoy performing, Ms. Hackett said. “We had a horse, one of our main stars, that they decided to retire, give him a nice life in California,” said Ms. Hackett. “He was so unhappy they had to bring him back on tour just so he could have a purpose.”
Cavalia was created by Normand Latourelle, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, which is also headquartered in Montreal.
In addition, Montreal is home to École Nationale de Cirque, the National Circus School.
“In Quebec, there is a very creative vibe that goes on,” said the 26-year-old Ms. Hackett, who became a gymnast at age 5 and later took up dancing and acrobatics. “I don’t know if it’s the confinement of winter, of being stuck together that forces us to go outside of our levels, outside of our thought patterns, but there really is a creative vibe in Montreal.”
Fellow performer Marianella Michaud, who studied for three years at the National Circus School, agrees that Montreal is emerging as a major player in the arts.
“Montreal is becoming the capital for circus in the world,” she said. “We have so many theater companies, dance companies, music. It’s really, I think the capital of the arts.”
The horses are what Ms. Michaud likes most about performing in Cavalia. “They’re such nice animals,” she said. “They’re really sensitive animals. Working with them is just wonderful.”
The horses have up and down days, just like humans, said Ms. Hackett.
“They’re a lot like children in that aspect,” she said. “They’ll wear it on their sleeve. Sometimes the horse I am dancing with will be somewhat lazy, and sometimes they’ll come out with so much energy I have to calm them down.”
Jessie Lee Cooper, a rider in Cavalia, was a professional horse trainer in Dacula, Ga., when he tried out for Cavalia. He was hired that same day and soon found himself touring in Europe.
It can take as little as a month to train a horse for Cavalia, he said. “We’ve had other horses for a year that still aren’t in the show yet,” he said. “It all depends on the individual horse.”
Some horses genuinely enjoy performing while others are out there doing what they have been trained to do and no more, said Mr. Cooper. “We use a lot of positive reinforcement,” he said. “Lots of treats, lots of food, lots of praising.”
To learn more about Cavalia, click here .