The marketing and promotional people behind Cavalia are not shy about the production's lavish details: a 210-foot widescreen projector that helps create special visual effects, a "dreamlike" set with backdrops of misty forests, and, of course, the massive 26,264-square-foot white big top that has caught the attention of thousands of SR 520 drivers since .
The show, tagged Cavalia: A Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse, does indeed feature some impressive visual effects. The screening I attended earlier this week took me and the rest of the audience through a sequence of changing seasons, complete with falling "leaves" and "snow" (on the audience as well as the performers), as well as a couple of rainstorms (thankfully confined to the stage). Medieval-era costumes and dramatic music gave the show a feeling of fairy-tale fantasy.
But those who attend Cavalia expecting a magic show might be disappointed. Sure, audience members who are younger than 12 or have a solid ability to suspend disbelief will still be struck with a couple of "I don't know how they did that!" moments. But for the rest of us, the show is more a display of extreme skill and dedication on the part of both the human and animal performers.
To me, this distinction makes Cavalia no less impressive. From the acrobats who manage to pull off flips and spins on objects like balls, beams—and yes, animals—to the trick riders who make dangling backwards off galloping horses look like simple morning stretches, the performers' skill is constantly on display.
Even more striking is the complete obedience and agility of the horses. Cavalia trainers can spend years preparing their four-legged stars for the stage, and it shows.
My favorite part of the show was a scene featuring a single performer and six un-saddled horses. There were no elaborate visual effects, costumes or music—just an inspiring display of what can happen when human and animal learn to communicate with and trust one another.
Seemingly using just verbal cues, the performer gradually managed to convince the six massive animals to gallop end-to-end in circles around her, then change directions one by one. Most people couldn't imagine getting dogs to pull off a similar act, let alone full-size beasts that are much larger than humans and can easily be spooked.
Scenes like this are part of what makes Cavalia especially appealing to people who raise horses or grew up around the animals. But even those without this experience can recognize the painstaking work and patience that both horse and trainer must have had to demonstrate toward one another to pull off the show.
Without this very real dedication, Cavalia's magical encounter would not be possible.
Cavalia continues its run at Marymoor Park in Redmond through Feb. 19. Adult tickets range in price from $34.50 to $199.50. Visit cavalia.net for more information or to purchase tickets.