Dressaged for success

Displaying amazing animal-human interactions, Cavalia presents its awe-inspiring originality under a multispired tent at the juncture of the Golden State Freeway and the Burbank Boulevard overpass.

It would be grossly understating to summarize this one-of-a-kind experience as merely a hybrid of a traditional circus and a Cirque du Soleil production, although there are elements of both on display.

Artistic/show director Normand Latourelle and his cast have instead crafted a historical tribute to the millennia-old relationship between mankind and horses.

The astonishing company comprises 37 artists, acrobats, dancers and riders hailing from at least seven countries and no less than 49 equines representing 11 breeds.

Whether riding their charges or gently guiding them through the graceful choreography attributed to Benjamin Aillaud, Frederic Pignon, Magali Delgado and Alain Gauthier, it is abundantly clear that honor and respect exists between the species.

Nowhere is this more evident than during a second act section titled "Grande Liberte.'"

Cast member Sylvia Zerbini, a slightly built blond, followed no less than nine unbridled white steeds that preceded her into the massive dirt and sand-lined staging area.

For nearly 10 minutes Zerbini used subtle hand gestures and imperceptible vocal cues as she collaborated with this collection of stallions to create a dance signifying their mutual love.

The performance evoked an intuitively emotional response as the opening-night audience rewarded Zerbini and her co-stars with a rarely seen, mid-act standing ovation.

Likewise, sections titled "The Discovery," "Carrousel" and "Haute Ecole" demonstrated the bonds these performers enjoy through precisely honed movement skills known as "dressage."

However, for jaw-dropping artistry, nothing topped those points where humans and horses combined riding skills with acrobatic athleticism.

In "La Vida," two gorgeously costumed couples ride tandem on a pair of Lusitanos.

The women, attached to flying harnesses, sweep and rise, connecting and disengaging themselves from their male counterparts who control the horses below.

Meanwhile, composer Michel Cusson's original music supported this segment, as well as the entire production, courtesy of an upstage five-piece orchestra and vocalist Mary-Pier Guilbault's haunting interludes.

Equally eye-popping were "Bungees Cavaliers" as well as "Libertad" in which Maxim Panteleenko and Jennifer Lecuyer used self-controlled arm straps to roll up to dizzying heights before spinning effortlessly back to the ground.

"Trick Riding" and "Roman Riding" were audience favorites for the cast's clowning, pulled off at breathtaking speeds.

Erick Villeneuve's projections/special effects and Alain Lortie's lighting are almost unbelievable.

Ultimately, this is a must-see for horse lovers. For those less familiar with the intelligence and gracefulness of the species, you will never look at a horse the same way again.

Dink O'Neal, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Assn., lives in Burbank.

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Infobox:

What: "Cavalia"

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 3 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday until Feb. 13.

Where: White Big Top, 777 N. Front St., Burbank.

Tickets: $39 to $219

Contact: (866) 999-8111 or http://www.cavalia.net

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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