Theatre Reviews


Directed by Érick Villeneuve


Equestrian Choreography by Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado

Under the Bigtop at Jackson and Racine

Cavalia, the hugely hyped equestrian show from Cirque du Soleil pioneer Normand Latourelle, is one of the biggest disappointments I can remember.  Despite vast production budgets and an array of dazzling technical effects, the show is a slow paced yawner that simply does not entertain.  The most astounding feat in this tent is that director Érick Villeneuve could put so much in and get so little out.

I am a big circus fan and I love horses, so I was certain that this was a show I would swoon over.  Cavalia has a large collection of beautiful horses and they perform some choreography that approaches ballet at times.  Unfortunately, the presentation is so slowly paced that it never captured my interest and I thought the first act would never end.  This was made even worse by Michel Cusson’s dreary and pretentious score which seems less homage to horses than to Yanni on barbiturates.  There are a few livelier moments late in the second act, but on opening night there were also a fair number of vacated seats in the tent by the time those rolled around.  Even some of the acrobatic stunts looked a bit shaky, which was something that took me completely by surprise.


Good manners dictate that I find something nice to say about this famous visiting troupe, so I will quickly run down a few moments that I did enjoy.  Mathieu Pignon performs two playful equestrian dances– with a solo horse in the first act and with a trio in the second act – that are truly touching.  There is such chemistry between this man and his animals that it can only be called love.  In the category of too little, way too late, there is a series of gallops across the stage that features a large number of riders performing lightening quick tricks as their horses gallop straight across from wing to wing.  As big as the tent is, the space does constrain the horses and this is the only time the audience gets to see them in rapid motion.  The Trick Riding number follows Pignon’s second act dance and is combined with some rather good acrobatic tricks from Coen Clarke, Maxim Panteleenko and Jason Fergusson on the Russian bar and Carey Hackett in a Cirque-du-Soleil-style pole mime.  Had the show managed to get to the level of these 15 minutes or so of action even occasionally in the first act, the evening would have been different and the applause at the end would have been more enthusiastic.  There are also a host of brilliant multi-media effects, though many of them are wasted or terribly mismatched with the awful score.  When you put the high-end ticket price on top of everything else, the only conclusion you can come to about Cavalia is skip it.


Randy Hardwick

Under the Bigtop, Jackson & Racine, Chicago, IL

11 thoughts on “Cavalia

  • I feel sorry for you that you did not appreciate the music, the talent, the horses, the beauty, and the magic of one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen. Cirque-du-Soleil talent and showmanship with the beauty of horses…what a true delight!

  • I went last night. I noticed that the show did not maintain the attention or interest of 8 year old boys throughout the entire performance. Everyone seemed to return to their seats after the intermission. There was, of course, the customary 10 to 15 percent of the audience that rudely rushed out of their seats in the last 10 minutes of the event in order to beat traffic. This is a Chicago custom which, regrettably, plagues every cultural or sports event.

  • it was such a shock to see this show when i was expecting the same quality of production of the performance 3 years ago. We learned too late that Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado are no longer with the troop. It was too loud, too slow, too long, too flashy. The horses generally had their ears pinned back and looked tense, instead of enjoying their performance as they had previously. There are clearly talented performers here, but somebody got too much circus and not enough horse. If you saw the first production, hold it in your memory and don’t go back.

  • Sandy

    I saw the show in Miami, Feb 14,2010 and was enchanted! Horses and performers were amazing. I highly recommended it to everyone! Perhaps the show has been changed and improved with time.

  • Charlotte

    Just saw the show for the first time, Feb 26 , in Miami.

    While the design and visual effects were stunning, I had expected to see Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado (because of the reviews quoted).

    I found the show slow (but charming and exciting at times), and wish I had been able to see the extraordinary performers who really forged its reputation. Where are they now?

  • Brenda Du Faur

    Please take down this negative review. How could someone find the soulful subtleness of great beauty which is the Cavalia first act “boring”. Off with the reviewer’s head! Ludicrous. The Cavalia show is not slow-paced. It is an incredibly wonderful, slowly climaxing theatrical display of great equines and wonderful human performers. It is about performance and higher level things. It is about a brilliant, multi-dimensional showcase and theatrical event. Not everything has to be a backflip. Not everything has to be titilating. There can be different kinds of excitement and beauty. Like Ballerina Suzanne Farrell’s languid and transcedent Chaconne. Chaconne is of a higher level beauty, and so is Cavalia. There is something called art and beauty. Art and beauty are things you must have inside of your own self in order to see art and beauty before you and know it’s there. The first act is a more internal, stilling beautifulness. The horses capturing you inwardly. But the second act provides those thrills of the galloping horses back and forth back and forth with the incredible saddle acrobatics. So there is high art as well as just zipping and exciting entertainment just for its own sake. I get tired of hearing people knocking the prices of Cavalia. Maybe Cavalia could eventually get some kind of package deals to offer people whereby school children could come to performances, or, you know, have monied companies sponsor Cavalia performances and pay for children who can’t afford it to come. Such exquisite performances such as Cavalia can change lives. A young person could be deeply struck by the magnificence of Cavalia and could suddenly learn and see some of the truly beautiful things in this life. Beauty can inspire unculture exposed children off the streets and into performing careers or at least could create in the children deep internal resources that will last a lifetime! As for the comment that 8 year olds were bored. What can I say. The fast parts may be easier for some children to like. But it is still valuable for children to be exposed to the so called slower parts as well, for children to be exposed to things. Theater, performance, etc. Why do people keep complaining about the prices. I can’t even imagine the costs of Cavalia. Why don’t people complain about 25 million dollar basketball contracts whereby inner city children can’t even afford to buy tickets. What about your grocery bill? What about contractor prices. What about a million other things you have to pay for. Complain about that. Don’t complain about Cavalia prices. Cavalia is honoring and giving a great place in this world for the spectacular creature called Horse. Not to mention the accomplished human performers. Can you imagine how much work is given? This incredible physical exertion. You have to pay for things for heaven’s sake. This is peoples’ and animals’ livlihoods. Have respect. Cavalia gave me chills every single time- I went back a second time and would have gone a third but had to work. This is an incredibly beautiful show. Imagine! Putting horses on stage like you do great ballet dancers. It is all really too wonderful and too beautiful. People should bring ear plugs however. The music is incredibly beautiful but shows don’t realize how loud decibels can get and it can cause hearing damage. My ears were very adversely affected afterwards. But wear your earplugs and rejoice at what you are in the midst of. To even have a tent which gives an adequate size stage for equine performers to romp is amazing in itself and should be supported. Do we want all things small and un-unique? Thank goodness there are places still on this earth that have enough space to fit a Cavalia tent. How ingenious! Horses as theater in a theater. Absolutely incredible. The music is beautiful, the respect for the horses shining, the horses, the wonderful, diverse performers…Do yourself a favor and go see Cavalia. It is a unique and beautiful opportunity… …it should be deeply honored…

  • Marianne Wegner

    My friend and I were both swept away by Cavalia in Charlotte last night– spent the entire 3 hour trip home talking about the insights and inspiration we gained from the performance, and how well worth the costs our excursion had been. Needless to say, I agree totally with Brenda Du Faur’s review of this reviewer. I mourn for anyone who presented with such a marvelous display of grace, virtuosity and harmony by such obviously dedicated artists (especially the horses!!) could be so blind, deaf, and unappreciative of such an opportunity for wonder and joy.

  • I am so glad that Marianne Wegner and friend had a wonderful night at the equine theater of Cavalia. Yes I’ve heard that the originators Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado were wonderful and pure and so reverent with the horses and I love them for that… I never want high standards in any field lessened and am always one hundred percent for the well-being of the horses, but it is so wonderful that people can enjoy the present Cavalia performances and take the great good from them… Oh my gosh, Cavalia is not some of those poor taste modern day comedy movies or whatever other lower thing that pains me in modern times for a lack in beauty and dignity in so called entertaining…Cavalia is a unique offering to a public…an extremely unqiue one…a chance for pureness and beauty. a chance for a complex display of artistic presentation made from horses’ and humans’ blood, sweat, and tears to give to people something big and beautiful, fun but also a high aesthetic. I thank all persons who support this wonderful domain of theatrical equine entertainment or display. How wonderful that horses can have an occupation. As long as they are given rest and wonderful respectful treatment I am so thrilled to gaze upon the indescribable beauty of a horse in motion or still… I mean how can you even describe or fathom a creature of such great beauty being created… The majesty, elegance, dignity, and soulful demeanor of a horse is like feeling the splendorous soul of an eternal universe… those dark eyes, the shining, breezing manes, those endlessly long, swishing tails …it is beyond awe-inspiring… Thank you so much for knowing Beauty… … … … …P.S. Just as an aside, I think horses in performance- in any arena- should not be made to bow with a person on their back often at all… I saw some video of this one move and I was troubled because the horse’s front legs and knees are so so so delicate and certain actions should be avoided because it puts a particular strain. Just like with humans, you can do greatly athletic things but always with a mind to respecting the body’s configurations of flesh, and bone and sinew and unique musculature and ligamentature, etc. … But oh how great the horse’s athleticism and such a gift to see the results of their Olympic-strong arduous training… the other day I watched horses jumping over high objects in an equestrian event…oh how many splendours can we see with the great creature called Horse in their performing Splendour and Glory… Brenda Du Faur+++++++++

  • Terralissa

    I saw Cavalia twice in the past, once in Phoenix and then again in Las Vegas and was captivated both times. I was so excited to find out Cavalia was coming to Denver. I bought two tickets and eagerly counted down the days. I kept telling my husband how much he was going to enjoy the show. When our show day finally arrived, I got goose bumps as soon as I saw the white top. Things were different as soon as we got inside, though. The pre-show music was so loud, it gave me a headache. Then the show finally started; the first scene where the young foals came out was the same, but after that things went down hill. Where was Frederic Pignon and his beautiful stallions? Why was the first half dragging? The poignant love scene where Magali danced above her husband Frederic was replaced by two male riders and two women flying. And the mirror scene wasn’t the same without Magali and her sister.

    Many of the performances were methodical and routine, lacking the passion of the origianl Cavalia. Some of the of the horses frequently nipped at each other. Gone was the joyous harmony. The dressage was subpar and the High School movements were watered down. One of the new riders took his gorgeous saddled, bridled horse over two jumps and the crowed cheered. Why? There was nothing special about that; anyone can jump. Frederic did the same jumps without a bridle or saddle. Now that was special.

    They replaced substance with flash and loud music. The horses have become secondary to the performers, whereas before the performers accented the horses. In the original show, the trick riders had one scene, but now you see them again and again ad naseum.

    It is still a beautiful show with some outstanding performers. If you have never seen Cavalia, by all means go see it, you will enjoy it. But, if you saw Cavalia when it was still Cavalia, don’t go see this shadow of the former Cavalia, it will leave you sad and disappointed. Those who never saw the original cannot truly understand how magical the show used to be. Frederic Pignon, his wife Magali, and his stallions were Cavalia.

  • I attended this amazing show last night in Denver. I was front and center as I had my mother with me in a wheelchair. Not only was I amazed at the entire show, but the relationship between the artists and the horses was so compasionate, I was blown away. Being a horse lover I opted to go to the stables after the show. I saw happy, calm, peaceful, spoiled horses. I was so proud that I was able to attend such an beautiful show. Cavalia I could not applaud you enough!!

  • Elizabeth McCarthy

    I just saw Cavalia in San Francisco and couldn’t agree with you more. It’s not a bad show but there is just no soul in it, it feels contrived and robotic, and the humans flying around forever and ever get vey boring. The magical horses are almost put in the background.
    The original Cavalia left me feeling full and inspired by the beauty and bond between Pignon and the horses whereas in this show that is missing. The show is still worth seeing but I agree, only if you did not see the original, real Cavalia.

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