Review of ‘Cavalia', something new under the soleil

From the top -- in this case a rather supersized big top -- let's tackle what many metro Atlantans may be wondering since the white tents started rising at Atlantic Station and the ad blitz was unleashed for "Cavalia."

No, you don't have to be a horse lover to enjoy this internationally touring show created by Cirque du Soleil co-founder Normand Latourelle, but if you do, you'll appreciate it on a level deeper than the non-horse whisperers in the crowd. And yes, if you're a fan of Cirque, there's enough of its inventive acrobatics and atmospherics to claim your imagination, even if you generally just say neigh to horsey stuff.

At times, "Cavalia" comes off as the most unconventional horse show you could imagine (even if it does have its more mainstream Medieval Times-ish moments, too). At other times, it's so Cirque-like in the way it melds acrobatics, aerial ballet, eye-popping projected imagery, evocative music and Enya-like singing, that you forget it's not the latest Cirque installment. And in its best moments, the equine and the acrobatic entwine to form something that we the jaded, who sometimes feel there's nothing new under the soleil, have never quite seen before.

During those passages, "Cavalia" has all of our senses engaged, and we're not thinking about shrinking home values and widening waistlines, Afghan rebels and carpool infidels. Instead, we're swept up in Latourelle's artful universe, captivated by a show that celebrates equine power and grace and delivers a vague message about the tenuousness of nature, while sitting inside a tent hard by the Downtown Connector. Which, if you think about it, is a miracle in and of itself.

Best not to spend too much energy sussing out that message: "Cavalia" is more about spectacle -- about trotting out state-of-the-art production tricks and tools -- than meaning. One of the best of these countless flourishes is when horse imagery is projected from stage rear on a screen of steadily falling raindrops. It's a fleeting passage, and you wonder how the heck they did it, and how is it possible for all that water to disappear as quickly as it arrived.

Still, the stars of the show are four-legged, and the things they do in concert with the two-legged supporting cast are astounding, including acrobats who fly on and off the horses' backs while they circle a ring; a steed going at full gallop with his rider on his side, apparently holding on by a mere leg curled over the saddle; a Roman Post rider who jumps over a high pole and lands on the two horses on the other side.

On opening night, there was a miscue on the Roman routine, and the vaulter took a few long moments to steady himself on the horses' backs. The audience applauded at this and a few other missteps, probably because they underlined just how nearly impossible some of the maneuvers are. The riders are so skilled and the horses so well trained that it's possible for the unknowing to take the fierce difficulty of the numbers for granted.

Yet, while "Cavalia" can then seem too effortless for its own good, there are also segments -- when the stage is overpopulated with horses and riders and acrobats and mimes (yes, mimes) -- in which it seems to try too hard to entertain. Then, the eye doesn't know where to focus. Yet complaining about this is like a glutton, sated by a bountiful feast, beefing that it was just too rich.

With "Cavalia," a master showman has paid us a visit, and Atlantans are not likely to regret allowing him the opportunity entertain us.

Review

“Cavalia”

Extended through Nov. 22, under the White Big Top at Atlantic Station. 8 p.m. most week nights, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (no show on Mondays). Regular tickets, $34.50-$99.50. Horse Lovers Package, $129.50-$139.50, includes preferred seating plus post-show tour of stables. Rendez-Vous Package, $179.50-$189.50, includes preferred seating, pre-show hors d’oeuvres, coffee and dessert at intermission, post-show stables tour and more. Special pricing for children, students and seniors. 1-866-999-8111, cavalia.net