x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Qasr Al Hosn’s Cavalia debut a roaring success

Cavalia, the theatrical equestrian production, made its high-octane debut at the Qasr Al Hosn Festival on Saturday to a packed audience.

The opening performance of the equestrian theatrical production Cavalia, part of the Qasr Al Hosn Festival. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
The opening performance of the equestrian theatrical production Cavalia, part of the Qasr Al Hosn Festival. Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

When you’re about to witness 50 highly trained horses in a show involving acrobatics, aerial stunts, dance and live music, be sure you’re not going to be dozing off in your seat.

Cavalia, the theatrical equestrian production, made its high-octane debut at the Qasr Al Hosn Festival on Saturday to a packed audience. The show usually lasts for about two and a half hours when performed in other countries, but this version is only an hour long, just the right amount of time to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.

The production was customised to reflect Emirati culture and tradition, and the show starts with a mesmerising scene of Emirati pearl divers suspended in mid air, mimicking deep-sea diving to a backdrop of real underwater video footage. The sequence is a visual masterpiece, complete with the illusion of ripples at the top of the water.

The desert features next, and though you’re anticipating horses (this being Cavalia), the first sighting of a massive stallion cantering on to the stage, a rider loosely holding the reins, comes as a shock. Behind the horseman is Qasr Al Hosn Fort, rising up among the dunes in all its glory. The spectacle is on such a grand scale that a seat at the back is more than adequate to take it all in.

Then the real equestrian acts kick off with five beautiful horses thundering across the stage chased by men, eliciting a round of spontaneous applause from the audience.

Such antics are interspersed with short acts by Ghanian gymnasts, who perform acrobatic stunts, one of them a 14-man pyramid. Expect your hair to stand on end when it appears as though one of them is about to fall to the ground on his head, only to be rescued in the nick of time. The calibre of the performances is awe-inspiring, befitting of this world-class production by Normand Latourelle, the founder of Cirque Du Soleil.

The Emirati theme is further explored through the tradition of climbing palm trees for date picking, creatively incorporated into the show’s acrobatic routines.

The focal point of the evening is real video footage of Sheikh Zayed riding his horse, which garnered deafening audience applause.

More daredevil stunts follow, and the pace goes up a notch when a man and woman take to the stage, each standing on two horses. In what is one of the most amazing stunts of the show, the man vaults over a pole brought in by two men, and lands back onto his horses without a toe out of position. The next act has horses galloping across the stage with riders hanging off them in various death-defying positions, barely clinging on with an arm or a leg.

From such heightened action, the mood changes: a man is flying a kite that swoops and dives in a way that mimics the falcon, the graceful bird that is a symbol of the UAE. Now the stage is reminiscent of a starry night, and djinn-like aerial dancers hang suspended in air above men riding horses, quietly echoing the stark beauty of life in the desert.

Next is a forest lit with the soft tones of dusk. Majestic white horses form a circle around a man, and as though instinctively knowing what to do, they dance in time with the music, six horses as one.

Right through the show, the live band plays music rooted in Arabian melodies, and they can be glimpsed at one point, briefly illuminated high above the stage.

For the finale, the backdrop is mountains, and, amazingly, water suddenly fills the stage. Eight horses step elegantly into the shallow pool for a precisely choreographed equine ballet, and create quite a splash — enough to drench members of the audience in the front row, who seek towels afterwards. But nobody seems to mind, and the act received rapturous applause.

In the end, Cavalia, with its overlying theme of the bond between man and horse, leaves the audience with a deep appreciation — and maybe even a better understanding — of Emirati tradition and heritage.

• Cavalia is at the Qasr Al Hosn Festival until Saturday. Tickets start from Dh250 for adults and Dh150 for children; visit www.ticketmaster.ae

artslife@thenational.ae