Dancing with Horses

Image courtesy http://www.sylvia-zerbini.com/

Image courtesy http://www.sylvia-zerbini.com/

Aside from a ginormous collection of plastic Breyer horses–thanks to a grandpa and an uncle in the toy business–I’ve never been much of a horse girl. Not that I don’t find them beautiful, but I was never one of those girls who begged their daddies for a pony. The horse phase that many of my friends went through pretty much clip clopped right by me.

But after seeing Sylvia Zerbini in action last week, I think I finally get it!

I watched in amazement as Sylvia–a lithe blonde who could easily rock a mermaid costume–single-handedly controlled nine Arabian horses, her whispers and gestures conducting them in an amazingly synchronized dance. They would gallop in circles, then divide into smaller groups, then come together once again like the a drill team. They did incredibly complex routines of trotting, cantering, turns and pivots that would be difficult on two legs, let alone four. At one point they actually did a marching line formation that could rival the Rockettes. It was truly one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen.

I have no idea how she does it, but this one act alone, called “Grande Liberte,” is more than enough for me to recommend that all of those horse-crazed girls (and their moms and their dads and their brothers) make it a point to go down and catch “Cavalia” if they can.

The show, developed by Cirque du Soleil creator Normand Latourelle, is under a big top in Burbank till mid-February. And when I say big top I mean big: it’s reputed to be the largest in North America at 110 feet tall, with more than 71,000 square feet of canvas and seating for 2,300.

But even more impressive are the 49 horses in the show, representing 13 different breeds. Like I said, I’m not a horse girl, but these beautiful animals are artists, and Latourelle has said he built the show around their personalities, so each show is different.

Of course, the human performers are impressive as well, 37 of them, mostly acrobats and equestrians, leaping and dancing and strutting around in the same kind of dazzling, dreamlike and just plain weird display of showmanship that I’ve come to expect from a Cirque show.

“Cavalia” begins simply with two foals (rescue horses) frolicking across the 160 foot long stage, but it quickly becomes big and eventually becomes huge, with epic themes ranging from ancient Rome to the Arab souk to the American wild west. All the while, the rider-acrobats make it look like it’s easy to do a flip on horseback or a sideways handstand on an animal running at full speed.

I don’t quite know how they do it, but this unbridled display of horseplay is definitely a whole lot of fun.

Cavalia runs through February 15 in Burbank. For tickets and information visit www.cavalia.net.

When Leslie’s not out horsing around she’s usually at work on her computer and can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on January 28, 2011.

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