Although called an equestrian circus, Cheval Theatre is like no other circus you've ever seen. Yes, the show is performed under a big top, but again this is no ordinary canvas tent. The Cheval big top, measures 69,513 square feet, and is the largest hand-painted big-top canvas in the world. That's right, hand-painted. The artists had to work in a 15,000-square feet warehouse and used 435 gallons of paint - it's like no other, hand-painted to look like a castle from the Loire Valley in France.
The big top can seat 1,500-2,000 spectators around a circus-style ring, which is 46 feet in diameter and situated at the center of the main tent. There are two connecting 51-foot tents that serve as the greenroom and warm-up area. The horses are housed in a 90-foot stable tent that also doubles as a lobby that theatergoers must pass through to access the big top. Yes, that's right, you must pass through the stable. The show promoters want theatergoers to be able to watch the horses being groomed for the performance, talk to the performers and trainers - all on their way to their seats.
Cheval is the fulfillment of a life long dream of creator Gilles Ste-Croix. "I wanted to combine the strength and grace of the horse with the theatricality of humans and imagine a space where horses and humans respect each other, interact, and create magical moments," said Ste-Croix.
There are 30 equine performers in Cheval, and there's got to be at least one breed that's your favorite! Cheval's breed lists includes the Andalusian, Arabian, Barb, Belgian, PomPom (cross between Belgian and Quarter Horse), Canadian, Clydesdale, Don, Friesian, Haflinger, Hungarian Draft Horse, American Miniature, American Paint Horse, Percheron, Quarter Horse, and the Russian Trotter. If one of these isn't your favorite breed now, then just wait until after they perform - each and every one will impress you.
Cheval features Equestrian Vaulting, which includes Rosin Back Vaulting. The vaulters are pushing off or landing on the horse's very slippery skin, which can throw off the vaulters at the slightest false move! There is also vaulting where the horse's back is covered with a carpet to buffer the landings and also allows more horses and teams of vaulters to form pyramids and perform leaps from horse to horse. The Cossack vaulting, developed in Russia by the dzigits and later perfected by the Cossacks. Cavalry members relied on this form of horsemanship to hide from their enemies in battle. Riders bring their horses to a 32 mile per hour gallop while somersaulting back and forth, from the ground to the saddle, going underneath the horse or hanging by a foot with their bodies dragging around the ring!
The Garotcha was inspired by Spanish tradition; this equestrian ballet is named after the long pole riders use for cattle sorting. This number features three cavalrymen handling the garotcha in poetic fashion to execute a series of high-precision spirals and pirouettes.
High School Dressage is featured in several numbers to include the Pas de deux where a female and male rider perform a choreographed duet during which the audience can admire a sequence of movements and master dressage disciplines such as the pirouette, the Spanish walk, the passage, pawing and the Levade. In the Solo Dressage performances the riders take turns showcasing the grace and dexterity of the horse-rider relationship where the horses are so brilliant and energetic; they appear to be dictating their own movements.
The Carousel technique was used up in World War I, in Cheval's carousel, ten horsemen execute an uninterrupted sequence of figures. A continuous flow of staggering elegance and finesse!
Freestyle Dressage by six Andalusians is breathtakingly choreographed and worthy of the finest classical ballet. The trainer gently persuades the horses to pirouette, waltz, and change direction in mid canter and rear up - all sequenced to the beat of the music. The Miniature Horse number features an adorable little horse named Chabo in a freestyle dressage performance. Dansk, the Arabian stallion tries to intimidate his trainer through various means, to no avail. The trainer, unfazed by Dansk's apparent aggression, manages to persuade the animal to kneel, walks on its backside and performs pirouettes. Dansk is incredibly bright, full of energy and loves the crowd.
Bohemio, the funny horse is a playful number where a comedic actor attempts to mount Bohemio, but Bohemio is unwilling to be mounted. He resists by sitting, lying down and outright refusing to budge. The trust between Bohemio and his trainer is stupendous.
What is a circus without Juggling? Juggling was the first vaulting discipline to be incorporated in the equestrian arts. Cheval's Hungarian performance artists are master equestrian vaulters and acrobats.
The Chicos, the guardians of Hungarian horses, developed the Hungarian Post. While standing on the backs of two horses galloping side-by-side around the ring, a rider holds onto the reins of the horses while the later jump over obstacles. Two additional horses trail them; the original pair gradually moves apart resulting in the horseman performing a full split. This allows the two chasing horses to pass under him while he latches onto their reins!
Despite the level of horsemanship - everyone will find something they love about Cheval! The production itself is awe-inspiring with its music, costumes and sets. It's impossible not to be amazed at the pure beauty and elegance of the horses and the tremendous international talent of the riders and acrobats.
For more information, visit www.chevaltheatre.com.
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