Review of Cavalia at FL State Fairgrounds: Pretty horses, pretty amazing

in which two white horses ridden by two white-clad princesses literally mirror each other in a courtly minuet. The overall effect — the syncopated stepping, the stately Bolero-like accompaniment, the massive castle gates projected onto the backdrop — was mesmerizing.

The rhythms of Cavalia seemed to settle into more of a balance after that, and the performers, both two- and four-legged, seemed more in tune with one another.


There's a terrific and very funny display of cowboy one-upsmanship in which the horses seem to be having just as much fun as their masters (you won't believe how fast they tear across the stage, or the precarious perches of the cowboys, and girls). There's a delicate ballet between an aerial dancer (suspended by bungee cord) and the horse and rider below. And, as with any Cirque-inspired show, there are some truly astounding trampoline artists, but in this case they land on moving targets.

But the most astonishing moment in the show is the simplest.

A horse comes running into the space alone, no rider. Then another. And another. And another. Until finally there nine horses, no human in sight — just us, the audience, collectively holding our breaths as the horses mill about. Then their trainer (the gifted Sylvia Zerbini) enters — and gently, with the subtlest of hand gestures, she leads them through a series of unison movements and symmetrical formations that are, frankly, amazing.

I overheard people talking serious equestrian talk after the show, arguing the fine points of dressage, naming the breeds they own themselves. Maybe it's commonplace in their circles to see horses doing the things the Cavalia troupe — and especially Zerbini — gets them to do.

But for this observer, and I suspect for many others, the fact that horses can do some of this stuff is  flat-out unbelievable. Just be prepared to let the show grow on you; I suspect there's much you'll see here that you'll never forget.

It took me a while to warm up to Cavalia, the equine extravaganza under the White Big Top at the Florida State Fairgrounds through March 21.

The pre-show audience quiz, projected onto a scrim, was informative — 62 horses! 28 stallions! Lusitanos! Oldenburgs! Warmbloods! (breeds, for those of you as un-horsey as I am) — but it all seemed a bit self-congratulatory. And after a stunning video of a horse giving birth, the initial acts in this Cirque-esque revue seemed oddly unmoving.

A woman and a horse flirt with each other and a puddle of water; a pack of horses gallops onstage, pursued by a tribe of hootin', hollerin' fellas; a man does some impressive stunts on a big ball, a horse runs around; a troupe of acrobats executes death-defying feats on horseback, including somersaults, but at one point a difficult dismount seems to come perilously close to damaging both horse and rider.

Nothing quite gelled for me: the animals seemed no more than props, and the humans' prowess paled in comparison to the power and grace of the horses. And the Celine Dion-esque background vocals weren't helping any.

But as the show progressed I began to think that the disjointed, showboat-y aspects of the opening acts had been intentional. They seemed a necessary prelude, throwing into relief the quietly harmonious partnering in the evening's loveliest vignette, Le Miroir,

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